Jenna Moynihan: Woven
Too often artists view tradition as a towering monolith to be either conquered or cowed by, but young Scottish fiddler and experimentalist Jenna Moynihan knows that tradition is meant to be a starting point for great inspiration, not a wall. On her new album, Woven, she darts back and forth like the shuttle in a loom, pulling the many strands of the Scottish fiddle tradition into a colorful tapestry that showcases her virtuosic control of her instrument as much as her deep sense of playfulness. To help her create this work, she’s brought together some of the best young traditional artists in her hometown of Boston, one of today’s hotbeds for new traditional music. The lineup here includes cutting-edge Scottish harpist Mairi Chaimbeul, renowned bluegrass guitarist Courtney Hartman (Della Mae), New England Celtic guitarist Owen Marshall, plus three all-star guest fiddlers: Duncan Wickel, Darol Anger, and Alex Hargreaves. It’s easy to tell that the music on her new album stems from what must have been many late-night jam sessions with these friends, but the ease of companionship found on this album belies the complexity of Moynihan’s arrangements. As the harp rolls in counterpoint behind the racing fiddle lines, or as the guitar matches her beat for beat, this is music whose virtuosity lies in Moynihan’s construction of the atmosphere around each tune and her delivery of each beautiful melody.
Produced by acclaimed harpist Maeve Gilchrist, Woven comes from the deep community of talented roots musicians based around the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. A star pupil with multiple awards, Moynihan brought her love and passion for Scottish fiddle traditions to the school, and at Berklee learned to merge these with Appalachian bowing patterns to ramp up the already powerful drive in her Scottish bow. She also learned to write new tunes, and some of the most beautiful melodies on her debut solo album come from her own pen, like the slow rolling “Haven,” which opens the album, or the more improvisational “The Chill on Montebello,” a tune that Moynihan’s teacher Mark Simos challenged her to write in an obscure fiddle tuning. Now that Moynihan has graduated from Berklee, she’s moving to become one of the best young traditional fiddlers of her generation, teaching now at multiple fiddle camps across the US and touring internationally as the newest member of Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards. What’s making Moynihan so successful is both her masterful ability as a lead fiddler and also her fine sensibility to the power of the old tunes. She’s remarkably subtle at drawing out the melody of a tune, and at recognizing how each tune fits best into the acoustic grooves of her fiddle.
This album was made by an artist wholly fascinated in the craft. The melodies and arrangements were built by hand and fleshed out by her talented friends and companions, but at the heart of Jenna Moynihan’s fiddling lies a subtle appreciation for what these tunes have to say. Though there are no words, you’ll feel their power anyway.