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ROSS & ALI - Symbiosis 

ROSS & ALI - Symbiosis 
Great White Records GWR004CD

Multi-instrumentalists Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton have been playing music together in various guises for about 20 years. They will be familiar from many bands, perhaps most obviously the Treacherous Orchestra in recent times. Symbiosis is a good name for their first duo recording, conveying both their interdependence and the idea that their shared music is greater than the sum of the two parts. With both players able to turn to pipes, whistles, strings and even harmonium as required, there is great scope for varied duets here. Add bass and drums from a few friends, and the sound is complete: gentle guitar and cittern, soaring whistle, the power of Ali's highland pipes and the flexibility of Ross's border set. Double and even triple-tracking turns the duo into an ensemble on most tracks, providing scope for counterpoint and harmony as the tunes are rolled around between the instruments.

The great majority of the material here was written by Ross and Ali, with just a handful of tunes by Gordon Duncan, Martyn Bennett and others. Although much of this music is suited to the pipes, actually only three tracks showcase the fine bag control and chanter work of Hutton and Ainslie. The other six focus on low whistles, singly or together, and you only have to listen to track 4 (cunningly titled Fourth) to appreciate that this pair are absolute masters of this humble fipple flute. Mairi's Tune, a crooked reel by Ainslie, allows him to show off his virtuoso piping skills. Ali fires up the big pipes for Gobbi Wan, a sort of Glasgow Jedi reel with Gordon Duncan style syncopation. Loch and Ruby feature Ross in mellow mood, backed by glorious finger-picked guitar from Ali, with Duncan Lyall and Martin O'Neill on bass and bodhrán. The final Gaelic combines cittern and banjo rhythms with a pair of driving dance tunes, great whistle-playing, and that special understanding between Ainslie and Hutton. No flashy fireworks, no special effects, but an impressive album all the same: Symbiosis is a treat to serve slightly chilled, with good friends and no time pressure, or perhaps at a summer bonfire party where you can turn the volume all the way up to eleven. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 116 of The Living Tradition magazine.