REVIEW FROM www.livingtradition.co.uk
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 www.marksaul.tv 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.