Celtic Connections review: Snuffbox with Zoe Rahman Trio, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

That Celtic Connections label can sometimes be little more than a nominal catch-all for the widely eclectic range of music the festival hosts, but some intriguing connections – Celtic or otherwise – emerged during this concert, which featured up-and-coming young traditional trio Snuffbox in collaboration with the MOBO award-winning jazz pianist Zoe Rahman and her trio.

Zoe Rahman

Snuffbox with Zoe Rahman Trio, New Auditorium, Glasgow ****

Rahman, in the company of her regular collaborators bassist Alec Dankworth and drummer Gene Calderazzo, can boast Anglo-Bengali heritage but also an Irish granny, of whom more presently. All of this colours her music, as does a long-standing interest in the work of Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize-winning Bengali poet and musician, some of whose songs were inspired by and indeed adapted from those of Robert Burns.

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So it was a rare connection indeed to hear Snuffbox – fiddler Charlie Stewart (a former Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year), cellist Rufus Huggan and guitarist-singer Luc McNally – and Rahman’s trio perform instrumental versions of Tagore songs as well as a jazzed-up but very recognisable Irish jig – tunes, which Rahman declared, “are basically my family history”.

And they were correspondingly rich, the first, Forbiddance, opening with lingering strains on piano, cello and fiddle, with Stewart and Huggan’s strings sounding appropriately plangent, while the second, My Heart Dances Like a Peacock, was similarly lyrical, intensifying with cascading keyboard work and Stewart’s fiddle teasing out phrases before a rumbustious piano and drums exchange brought in the jig, the traditional Butlers of Glen Avenue.

A further Tagore piece constituted their encore, sounding very like a microtonal makeover of Auld Lang Syne, ending the evening on a suitably warm-hearted note. The first-half collaboration had sounded a bit more tentative, as if all parties were feeling their way a little, although Rahman’s piano added sonority to McNally’s singing of the lyrically plaintive Michael Marra song The Beast.

In the trios’ individual sets, Huggan’s cello sounded a stately rendition of the old strathspey Whistle o’er the Lave O’t, in nice contrast to some of their mandatory high-speed reels,

while Rahman included a beautiful slow number, its expansive, Eastern-accented rippling accompanied by the shushing of Calderazzo’s brushes and gently murmuring double bass, while tribute to the aforementioned Irish granny was paid by Conversation with Nellie, its rumbustious nature suggesting that they must have been pretty animated dialogues. - Jim Gilchrist