Multi-instrumentalist, stepdancer and host of podcast TradCafe, Neil Pearlman is a vital and distinctive voice in contemporary traditional music. Described as “a tremendous pianist” on BBC Radio Scotland and “a force to be reckoned with” by WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan, Neil is recognized in many Celtic music circles for his unique approach to the piano. Rooted in traditional Cape Breton piano styles, he adds jazz harmony and the syncopations of funk, Cuban, and Brazilian dance music to create a unique and infectious sound. It was this innovative style that led legendary Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland to say “watching Neil’s hands on the piano was like watching two spiders on crack!”
Growing up in a musical family, Neil was immersed in Scottish and Cape Breton music and dance from the start. He began dancing at the age of 3 and the piano followed soon after. Joining his parents and siblings on stage as the family band Highland Soles, Neil learned the art of performance early at festivals and concert halls across New England. At the age of 11, he toured as a stepdancer with his mother Laura Scott in Natalie MacMaster’s high-powered show and a few years later he released his first album accompanying his father, fiddler Ed Pearlman. More recently he has continued to work with family members, releasing the album Run to Fly in 2015 with the band Alba’s Edge, co-led with his sister Lilly Pearlman. The album was produced by BBC Folk Musician of the Year Aidan O’Rourke and was lauded as “sophisticated, mellow, contemporary folk-jazz” by fRoots magazine.
Today Neil’s musical projects run the gamut from deeply traditional to refreshingly contemporary. His podcast TradCafe is a series of conversations and collaborations with traditional musicians from around the world. He is a key member of the 8 piece Afro-Celtic Funk band Soulsha and the new quartet Fàrsan which blends Gaelic song, stepdance, fiddle and pipes. He also collaborates regularly with a number of musicians in duo and trio formats including saxophonist Dylan Sherry and fiddlers Kevin Henderson, Katie McNally, Alden Robinson, Galen Fraser, and Ed Pearlman.