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Private Label XB01/1

Xavier Boderiou is one of the top Breton pipers, has competed at world class level with Scotland's premier pipe band Shotts & Dykehead, and won the World Pipe Band Championships with Canadian band SFU. So he's rather good. Sylvain Barou and Jacques Pellen come from the Breton folk tradition and are also well known in Irish music circles: their flutes and guitars accompany and interweave with the highland pipes here to create a complex sound which is not entirely Scottish, not entirely Breton, and in many ways experimental. There's an ancient and mystical side to their arrangements of these six old Scottish melodies, which steers clear of New Age clichés while sailing quite close to the music of Celtic rock and cinema. This trio's performances are masterly, all the more so as some of the playing is impromptu and spontaneous. Morenn is a new approach to bagpipe music, a first step perhaps, but an exciting one nonetheless.

OK, full disclosure now: this is piobaireachd, the challenging classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe, and each track is one of the big centuries-old tunes which are the pinnacle of Scottish piping. Boderiou is well able to handle such material and there's no hint of "pibroch lite", no "Red Hot Chilli Pibroch" or "MacCrimmon's Re-Mix". This CD is endorsed by none other than Willie McCallum, an ancient and revered figure himself. There will doubtless be some adverse reaction from purists, as there was to the music of Gordon Duncan, but I'm not writing for a purist audience here. While I could drone on about grounds and variations, torluaths and doublings, and the way Morenn sticks faithfully to the forms and techniques of accepted piobaireachd playing, that's not the point. Boderiou and friends have taken a great tradition and added to it, enhanced it in sympathetic ways, to create new and engaging music. For me, that's what a "living tradition" is about.

I myself would not happily sit and listen to an hour of piobaireachd, I don't understand its nuances well enough and frankly it doesn't often grab me: but this album is different, more familiar somehow and an hour passes quite quickly. Even the stylised repetitive variations - riffs, if you will - in the second half of Glengarry's March are softened and sweetened by the contributions of flute and guitar. Listeners with no background in piobaireachd or Scottish piping will still find much to enjoy here: the stark solo piping on Park Number 2, the very modern interpretation of In Praise Of Morag and the grandeur of the opening anthem Clan Campbell's Gathering. Whether you love piobaireachd, you've always wondered about it but not yet tried it, or you've never even heard of it, Morenn is something you should check out: gently at first, track by track, building up to the thirteen-minute masterpiece MacCrimmon's Sweetheart as a finale. I hope you find this recording as surprising and enjoyable as I have.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 103 of The Living Tradition magazine.