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SANDY MELDRUM - Scottish Piano Fusion

SANDY MELDRUM - Scottish Piano Fusion
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX 298

It takes kahunas the size of footballs to take one of the most famous tunes in the piping canon - G.S. Maclennan's The Little Cascade - and play it in a distinctly jazzy style on the piano with double bass and drum sparring in accompaniment. That Sandy does just that on his debut CD and makes it work in spectacular fashion, speaks volumes for his talent and vision. Sandy welds Jazz, classical, and Cape Breton influences on to the chassis that is Scottish traditional music to create a complex structure that reveals delightful new nuances with each listen. Make no mistake though the backbone running right through this recording is not just Scottish music but west of Scotland music. Fusion this may be, but it is in heart and spirit a highland recording and indeed with tunes such as Togail Curs air a Leodhas, An Ataireachd Ard and a couple of tunes by the late Ian Crichton of Lewis, Sandy wears his Lewis connections on his sleeve. The unique Fergie MacDonald, his son John and singers Calum Alex MacMillan (with Gaol na h-oige) and Darren MacLean (with Cearceal a Chuain) add to the west coast flavour.

Throughout this CD Sandy's musical ability shines through as he never lets his desire to push the boundaries get in the way of the tune, and his piano version of An Ataireachd Ard is as close as listening to Ishbel MacKaskill sing as an instrumentalist will ever get. Dave Milligan (of Bachue and Unusual Suspects) and Sandy do a piano duet on Dave's fabulous composition Country feast. On another of Dave's tunes, Country Feast, Fiona Hunter (cello) and Stuart Cassells (small pipes) gently weave in and out of the piano line for an effect that is almost classical, yet is as soft and Scottish as a summers dawn over Loch Lomond. The same could be said as Sandy plays Phamie Gow's Tune for Ronald unaccompanied on the piano. Phamie also accompanies Sandy on Clarsach for a piece (Nightfold) of her Lammermuir suite. Sandy continues his 'less is more' approach with an achingly sparse accompaniment of Calum Alex MacMillan on his moving version of Gaol na H-oige. This is a strong contender for the highlight of the CD (but then again the competition is fierce for that title).

The CD is dappled with light and shade as Sandy varies the tempo throughout and counters the Gaelic intensity with reels and jigs - including a boisterous set off Hebridean scotch reels played with Fergie and John in the Dannsaichean an Rathaid set.

That the piano hasn't featured particularly heavily in the Scottish traditional music scene over the last thirty years is true. That, is however, about to change and Sandy Meldrum is setting the pace. Sandy has also pulled off that rare accomplishment and produced a fusion CD that manages to be both innovative and true to its roots. No mean feat. Highly recommended.

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 71 of The Living Tradition magazine.