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MAIREARAD GREEN Passing Places: Live At Celtic Connections 2009 (CD & DVD)

Passing Places: Live At Celtic Connections 2009 (CD & DVD)
Buie Records BUIECDDVD01

You’ll doubtless already know ace accordionist Mairearad as a card-carrying member of the Poozies, Box Club, the Unusual Suspects and latterly for her touring activities with Anna Massie, Karine Polwart and Eddi Reader, but she’s many more strings to her bow, not least her ability to compose original music which branches out from the more traditional folk music styling into brave new areas. Don’t be fooled by this release’s catch-all title either, for it’s not a straight record of a gig – even though the CD part of the package can still stand alone as a direct audio memento of that performance. Passing Places, written specially by Mairearad as a New Voices commission for performance at Celtic Connections 2009, takes the form of a musical and filmic journey through the spectacular scenery and cultural riches of the Coigach peninsula in her native Wester Ross.

This landscape, I’d readily testify, is unquestionably one of the most stunning in the entire land, and one could say that for that very reason it’s especially impossible to capture in music. But Mairearad’s journey, while both evoking and inspired by that landscape, also relates the physical journey of her protagonist, a cyclist (played in the film by her cousin Ruaraidh) to the greater journeys we all take in life through its various passing places. This all acquires cohesion through the intense creative input of film-maker Magnus Graham, who ensures that Mairearad’s music transcends any superficial programmatic elements and achieves a greater artistic unity with his vision.

The 42-minute composition ostensibly takes the form of a kind of suite in three sections, these being sub-divided into linked “movements” or episodes. The melodic and harmonic contours of its music are informed by the many musicians Mairearad has worked with over the years, and her hand-picked eight-piece ensemble for this special performance, which comprises Anna Massie, Hamish Napier, Donald Hay, Duncan Lyall, Adam Sutherland, Peter Tickell and Adam Bulley, is notable for the lithe, deft quality of its playing. The music alternates wistful themes with momentum-generating pieces loosely based on traditional dance-forms, ebbing and flowing naturally as the journey progresses; the use of the memorable Passing Places motifs binds the suite together.

The contemplative nature of much of the musical invention is offset by the verve of the playing, while the more animated sections are managed with a scintillatingly responsive joie-de-vivre between the various musicians; there’s even a riotous Ceilidh Band section towards the end. Although the visuals are generally well synchronised to the music, I did find some of the dual-focus work and intentionally lazy dissolves mildly irritating after one viewing and the juddery bike’s-view sequences around Achiltibuie didn’t adequately convey the true linear nature of the journey. And although the chiaroscuro photography is predictably striking, I did feel that the impact of the unique Ben Mor Coigach and Stac Pollaidh mountains on the protagonist was underplayed (indeed, Stac Pollaidh itself only makes a brief appearance in the cascading set of tunes after which it is named). But this release is a “keeper”, one to which I’ll no doubt want to return in one format or other pretty soon – and it’s good to have the choice.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.