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MIKE VASS - The Four Pillars 

MIKE VASS - The Four Pillars 
Unroofed UR005CD 

The Four Pillars promises an album of Scottish music with a difference – how often have you read that phrase in promotion leaflets? Very often if you are a reviewer. The trick is in discerning if such an accolade is worthy of the project or is just a selling point to gain attention.

The truth of the matter is that, here, the term is valid and deserved. The Four Pillars addresses the four conventional compositional pillars of the Scottish instrumental canon - the air, march, strathspey and reel - which are the bread and butter of musical repertoire, each having its own unique cadences and features. The tunes are often played in unison in a set - from the slow plaintive air setting the scene for the march, which picks up the pace, then the strathspey which displays melodic nuances, and finally the reel with an all-out guns blazing finish. This, or something approximating this, is the normal setting as most people know it.

However, here Mike Vass has arranged the tune pillars individually, letting them stand or fall on their own merits. All the tunes are new pieces by Mike, composed for the 2018 Scots Fiddle Festival in Edinburgh. The accompaniments are varied, with vibraphone, piano and string quartet joining the solo fiddle to provide some new creative vistas on these well-worn pillars. The use of vibraphone is especially evocative – more commonly found in jazz corners, here Iain Sandilands’ playing lights up the march From Regions Far Apart and the three strathspeys and two reel sets. A string quartet of two fiddles, viola and cello add extra lustre to the air, The Ancient Day. It also joins with vibes, piano and percussion on the strathspey, Torrent Of A Thing, with Patsy Reid’s lead fiddle out front.

The Four Pillars exhibits Mike Vass’ musical expertise as well as highlighting his compositional gifts. It’s a remarkable addition to the tune canon and where treatments are concerned, it’s out on its own. It really is Scottish music with a difference.

John O’Regan


This review appeared in Issue 130 of The Living Tradition magazine