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Private Label JMMCD001

Strangely, it is very likely you haven’t heard of James Duncan Mackenzie. Strange because he has an impressive CV including being a member of Breabach, reaching the final of BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year, playing with The Scottish Power pipe band (one of the top six pipe bands in the world), performances with bands such as Manran, The Paul McKenna Band and Seudan, and to cap it all, a first class honours degree in Scottish Music – Piping, from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Despite the above James Duncan MacKenzie is not a name that would spring to mind, unlike his much higher profile band mate Calum MacCrimmon. This CD should go some way to redressing that balance.

Hailing from the village of Back in the Isle of Lewis, James had tuition from Nick Gordon and PM Iain Morrison before making a big impact on the junior solo competitive circuit. A spell at the University of the Highlands and Islands brought him into contact with Iain MacDonald and the flute, following which he toured with various bands and combos before Breabach further honed his skills on pipes, flute and whistle.

His eponymous first CD is a vibrant mix of tunes ranging from the gently rolling Anna Elisabeth Mackenzie through relaxed quicksteps, sprightly 2/4 marches like Donald MacLellan Of Rothesay, to the eyeballs out, vein popping spirit of Smelling Fresh (strange title – great, great, tune). Throw in PM Donald MacLeod’s poignant Lament For The Iolaire and you have a CD that entertains from start to finish with a clever mix of tunes that keeps your attention throughout.

James pens many of the tunes and they display his evident talent as a composer. Tunes such as the evocative The Second Sight, the rocking Eyes To The Sky and Barbara Anne MacKenzie’s Jig sit very easily alongside such classics as The Seagull, Wiseman’s Exercise and even The Dagshai Hills (or The Heights Of Dargai if you prefer). James has carefully crafted the sets so that his tunes and the older ones blend seamlessly and it is testament to his composing skills that you don’t notice the joins.

James uses the supporting cast of Matheu Watson, Sean Gray, Alasdair White, Hamish Napier, Robert Napier and Breabach colleague James Lindsay, to terrific effect with understated excellence being the order of the day. This is one album that is much more about the music than the players. With James’ playing on pipes, flute or whistle to the fore, the others wrap a blanket of supportive sounds around him that rocks when it needs to and soothes when it doesn’t.

James Duncan MacKenzie – if you don’t know who he is, now is the time to find out!

Chris Mackenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.