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MARK SAUL - Mixolydian Greentrax CDTRAX267

This is amazing stuff. Experimental piper Mark Saul is well known in the Scottish piping scene for his inventive and sometimes downright crazy compositions. Based in Australia, Mark draws on everything from aboriginal chant to acid techno: eclectic meets kleptomaniac. His music is more full of contrasts than a home-decorating make-over, with never a dull moment but no shortage of shock and surprises. Think Martyn Bennett with multiple personalities. For that subtle Antipodean touch, the back cover is printed upside-down.

Mark plays pipes and low whistle over an electronic landscape which ranges from gentle New Age to frantic rave. The notes to one track read "Blues scale improvisational bagpipe solos in a 6/4 time signature. No rules here." - like there are rules on the other tracks?! If you want more explanation, visit Mark's website which also has samples of the album.

All ten tracks on Mixolydian are Mark's own compositions. His pipes and whistles are complemented by stringed things from four guest musicians, and by a broad palette of sampled sounds. The opening track is a very catchy low-whistle piece with a bit too much guitar, then comes The Gateless Gate, a brash New Celtic mixture of thunder and mysticism. Next is that 6/4 one - very flash and funky - followed by a pan-Celtic extravanagza a la Dan Ar Braz titled Journey to the Centre of the Celts. The Balkan-style dance/hymn Beyond is a definite highlight, akin to some of the great piping slow airs from Shotts & Dykehead, then we plunge into turbo ceilidh and night-club dance mixes before an intriguing track which insists that the highland pipes are "an instrument for playing music". Point taken. Wicked Train of Thought is another experiment that went right, and the closing track is a reprise of the opener in a much lusher arrangement.

Comparisons are onerous, but many of Mark Saul's compositions have the same multi-cultural urgency as Paul Mounsey's music. The actual melodies are more avant garde, similar to work by R S MacDonald or Jimmy MacRae. When Mark sticks to a sane time-signature, there are hints of Gordon Duncan or Finlay MacDonald, and the actual piping is not far off their standard. Mixolydian was originally an own-label release, but when Greentrax heard it they were hooked: it's not hard to hear why. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in contemporary piping.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 59 of The Living Tradition magazine.