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FRASER FIFIELD - Piobaireachd / Pipe Music 

FRASER FIFIELD - Piobaireachd / Pipe Music 
Private Label TAN008  

Time was when you could write “This is a piping album” and people knew what to expect. Not any more. I blame Gordon Duncan, and Duncan MacGillivray, and a few others including this guy. Fraser Fifield can do straight-ahead Scottish pipes, but his inclination takes him off the beaten track more often than not: jazz saxophonist, low whistle virtuoso, arranger and composer, he's served time in such eclectic bands as Salsa Celtica and Old Blind Dogs, and made his mark on several traditions beyond Scottish shores. His latest album is a bit different, a solo odyssey uncovering the roots and building out the branches of a personal approach to pipe music. The pipes dominate most tracks, underpinned by keyboard and percussion, while a bewildering array of woodwind weaves a canopy above them, all performed by Fifield.

What does that mean? Well, there's a handful of pipe melodies old and new here which are played pretty much in traditional fashion - Lament For Red Hector Of The BattlesA Flame Of Wrath from the 78th Fraser Highlanders, and others, but always there's jazz sax or sultry whistle, and often several of them, turning modern solo piping into a perfect blend of folk and fine art. Fred Morrison's Breizh for instance comes with a Breton tang, but this arrangement adds a whole bagad of bombardes and beckoning sirens, ghost ships and gurgling cider - you can almost hear the lines of dancers as they wind through darkened streets. Fraser's own compositions combine contemporary piping with world music sounds from Golders Green to Georgia, lush carpets of harmony and discord, never losing that traditional thread but embroidering it with oriental silks, Louisiana blues, and the rich reds of southern Europe.

Not every track is a piping track - three settle for the gentler timbres of whistle or clarinet - and while most pieces here are unhurried, there are bursts of urgency in Piper's Premonition and a couple of others which get the feet stamping. Mostly it's just fingers and toes which tap along to these tunes, but the final Praise Of Longer Days has the sort of groove which street-savvy kids are bopping to in the born-again night clubs of Glasgow - and no doubt in Buckie bothies too. Piobaireachd / Pipe Music is intense enough for dancing, cool enough for listening, and personal enough to satisfy the most questing soul. It also has men in kilts on the cover. Try it, and then tell me you don't like piping.

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 141 of The Living Tradition magazine