Ofra Harnoy's 'On the Rock' is a charming disc / theWholeNote
Renowned Canadian cellist Ofra Harnoy and husband/collaborator Mike Herriott have just released On the Rock, celebrating the music of Newfoundland (Analekta AN28909 analekta.com/en/albums). With 43 previous recordings, five JUNO awards and the Order of Canada to her name, Harnoy needs no introduction to the discerning readers of this magazine. The same can be said of multi-instrumentalist Herriott whose accomplishments in both the classical and jazz worlds run the gamut from lead trumpeter, jazz improviser, orchestral soloist, bassist, arranger and composer. In the summer of 2018 Harnoy and Herriott took a vacation in St. John's, where Herriott had spent his formative years. Evidently she fell in love with the place and people of Newfoundland, one of the few locations in the world her career had not previously taken her, and they decided to buy a house and settle there. After their first collaboration for Analekta, Back to Bach, was released in 2019 they embarked on a journey to explore the island and research its music. The result is this charming disc, a mixture of traditional and popular songs in instrumental and vocal renditions, all arranged by Herriott, with the participation of singers Alan Doyle, Amanda Cash, Kelly-Ann Evans, Heather Bambrick and Fergus O'Byrne. O'Byrne also adds guitar and banjo to the instrumental contingent of guests Maureen Ennis (guitar), Bob Hallett (accordion, mandolin and Irish flute) and Kendel Carson (fiddle). All of the other instruments, and there are many, are played by Herriott except the solo and ensemble cellos of Harnoy.
The album begins with a haunting rendition of the traditional She's Like the Swallow performed by Harnoy and Herriott, who are then joined by Amanda Cash in Wayne Chaulk's story/ballad Saltwater Joys. In a nod to Harnoy's classical background, and perhaps to their previous disc, Herriott's arrangement of Ron Hynes' St. John's Waltz begins with a solo cello line cleverly modelled on the Prelude from Bach's Suite for Solo Cello No.1 in G Major which later develops into an ensemble of cellos accompanying Great Big Sea founder Doyle on vocals. There's an instrumental interlude where Ennis joins Harnoy to perform Cara's Waltz which she penned with Doyle. Although much of the album is mellow and balladic, especially in the tunes that feature Herriott's flugelhorn stylings, things really get cooking in Harbour Buffett Double, a quartet with cello, fiddle, accordion and bass (with Herriott doubling on spoons) and the following Mussels in the Corner. This mainstay of local dance music sees Hallett playing all three of his instruments along with Harnoy and Herriott, all to the accompaniment of a rowdy pub crowd.
One interesting artistic choice is the mournful arrangement for 11 cellos of Stan Rogers' rousing a cappella anthem Barrett's Privateers, bringing an entirely new slant to the broken sailor's lament. A further contribution to the sombre mood of the disc is Evans' beautiful interpretation of Hynes' Sonny's Dream, another iconic tune by the unofficial poet laureate of Newfoundland. In his introductory notes Herriott suggests that this is just the beginning of their exploration of the music of his home province. As beautiful as this maiden voyage is, I hope that the next installment will include some of the roughhousing found in Newfoundland and Labrador's traditional jigs and reels.