Album review: ‘Piobaireachd / Pipe Music’ by Fraser Fifield
Reviewed by James MacHattie for Pipesdrums.com
After my first listen to Fraser Fifield’s new album Piobaireachd / Pipe Music, which is set for release later this month, I felt wholly unqualified to write a review. Quite clearly, the breadth of musical knowledge and experience of this talented multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer and improviser has surpassed my limits. But I thoroughly enjoyed the album and wanted to listen to it again. And so I thought of the audience of this review, primarily pipers whose principal focus is on the Highland Bagpipe, who would listen with a similar amount of understanding of the complexities of the recording. I cannot begin to get into these details, but I can certainly discuss how the tracks struck me as a standard piper.
Many albums bring out strong emotions in me, but not many evoke imagery. Fifield paints musical scenes with various tracks because of the mix of other forms of “pipes” – reeded or otherwise – often with Highland pipes. I can almost hear some eyeballs rolling among some of the readers of this review, but have a listen: you will see what I mean. As I go through the various tracks shortly, I will let you know what imagery emerged from some of the tracks.
The quality of his bagpipe is top-notch. His knowledge and understanding of piobaireachd are evident throughout, and I suspect his tutor Jack Taylor is proud of his ability and passion.
The concept explores piobaireachd and pipe playing, sometimes handling ancient tunes directly. At other times, he uses the phrasing, structure, and other characteristics of ceol mor in his compositions and improvisations. Fifield incorporates whistle, saxophone, clarinet, and a Balkan flute called a kaval, among other instruments throughout the recording, all blown with excellent intonation. The quality of his bagpipe is top-notch. His knowledge and understanding of piobaireachd are evident throughout, and I suspect his tutor Jack Taylor is proud of his ability and passion.
The first track, “In Regards that Matter,” is a highly catchy piece that reminds me of traditional dance music from certain parts of mainland Europe. It is certainly not what one would casually expect in the first piece on an album with piobaireachd in the title, and it serves as a fair warning of the unexpected.
This introduction is followed by “Being in Time,” with fascinating instrumentation. Chord structures are so strong in some piobaireachds and ready to be exposed, and here he takes it far beyond in one of his compositions. The piece begins softly, then after a frantic passage, returns to the opening feel of the piece.
The first ancient piobaireachd to appear is “A Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick.” The Highland pipe leads in Fred Morrison’s air “Breizh” and into the urlar of the piobaireachd, with shadows of other instruments echoing and mimicking. The low whistle lends a softness to the rhythmic melody without detracting from the intensity, where I first noticed an image. It was light and darkness in contrast between pipe and whistle, and the slight echo created a flickering effect. Appropriate for such a fiery tune, and it gave me chills. In the first variation, the pipe improvises over the instrumentation playing the well-known melody and rhythm.
“Improvisation on Whistle” plays with tones, rhythms and harmonies that I found fascinating but I did not quite understand. I read in the introductory notes that this piece includes a nod to “the alap of north Indian ragas,” so that explains it: my musical limitations at play again.
Fifield’s lovely pipe stands out in “Lament for Red Hector of the Battles,” one of my favourite of the “small” piobaireachds. Still, the gentle and complementary accompaniment enhances the melodic flow.
“Where Rivers Meet” is an attractive piece, combining slower sustained tones and more complex rhythmic passages, expertly bringing images of flowing water, at times gentle, at times torrid.
The melody of the “Lament for the Old Sword” is led by whistle, with a calm eastern-influenced accompaniment. The imagery I experienced here was of an early sunrise. Fifield includes a proper dithis singling and double (minus the G and E grace notes, of course) and provides a fascinating whistle variation of the taorluath embellishment.
“The Piper’s Premonition” is pipe-driven and another piece that forced me to think hard about its structure. Unexpected key changes match the unexpected rhythmic variations.
Saxophone and clarinet feature in “The MacDougalls’ Gathering,” which Fifield approaches gently. Alongside a delay or echo effect, quick improvisations on whistle, sax and other instruments add texture and create a swirling effect. He plays through the taorluath doubling and then finishes with the four double echoes from the start of the urlar for a compelling finish.
Sit down by a fire late at night with a few close friends who do not feel the need to speak, and stare into the flames, relax your thoughts, and experience Piobaireachd / Pipe Music.
“Improvisations on Bagpipes” uses standard piobaireachd technique and pulses, with passages that remind me of the “Clan Campbells’ Gathering,” “The Finger Lock,” and “Tulloch Ard,” and I’m sure each time I listen, I will pick out another hint at another tune. Even birdsong is featured, and some electronic elements and fading in and outcome into play. The electronics continue in the final track, “Praise of Longer Days.” An underlying groove reminded me of piping for a Bhangra club years ago: the drummers then laid down a beat that was perfectly sympathetic to slow reels, and the feel in this final track is similar.
I thoroughly enjoyed this album. For me, the standout tracks are the “re-imaginings” of the familiar piobaireachds, which is perhaps not too surprising since I am a trained piper. Still, the instrumentation added shows a deep understanding of and respect for the music. It is the sort of album that benefits further from the right atmosphere. Sit down by a fire late at night with a few close friends who do not feel the need to speak, and stare into the flames, relax your thoughts, and experience Piobaireachd / Pipe Music.
James MacHattie is on the world’s best pipers. He’s won pretty much everything as a soloist in North America and whole lot of stuff in the UK. Originally from Saskatchewan, Canada, he lived in Toronto and was pipe-major of the Grade 1 Toronto Police, winning two North American Championships, before moving to Summerside, Prince Edward Island, where he is director of the College of Piping & Celtic Performing Arts.
(originally posted at: https://www.pipesdrums.com/article/album-review-piobaireachd-pipe-music-by-fraser-fifield)
Album review: ‘Piobaireachd / Pipe Music’ by Fraser Fifield
Reviewed by BP for The Ileach (http://www.ileach.co.uk)
While last year’s lengthy period of national lockdown all but devastated the careers of professional musicians across the country, due to the cancellation of all live gigs and concerts, it also offered hidden opportunities to others.
Composition is the lifeblood of many a jazz or traditional musician, the problem often being a lack of finding the time to join the dots and record a back catalogue of pent up ideas.
Such was the experience of the multi-talented, Fraser Fifield, a recent visitor to Islay to record for this year’s online Islay Jazz Festival.
An excellent piper, on this new album, he augments the sound of both the Highland bagpipes and Border pipes with saxophones, low flute, whistles and bodhran, multi-tracking the sounds to create some unique sounds. It brought him, he says, to a deep re-examination, during lockdown, of “that ancient, slightly mysterious music associated with the Scottish bagpipe.”
Fraser also holds the conviction that Scottish piping once involved far more improvisation than it does today.
About the opening track, ‘In Regards That Matter’, featuring pipes and saxophones, he says that he finds the combination of both instruments to be complementary. For those who often find the Highland bagpipes to be somewhat on the brash side, there’s no doubt that the saxophone and low flute featured on the track, soften the blow, so to speak, offering an almost synthesiser-like sound that is quite addictive.
And I’m assuming that it’s entirely co-incidental that track six, is entitled ‘Where Rivers Meet’, the very title of the SNJO recording reviewed above.
In a concession to modernity, the final track, ‘In Praise of Longer Days’ features a percussion loop. Fraser says that this tune reminds him of simpler times, “…when days seemed a little longer and the future a little brighter,” ending with the thought, “Maybe I’m just growing a little older.”
The album’s title may be slightly misleading to those in thrall to the unaccompanied pipe music usually described by the word ‘Piobaireachd’, and it’s possible that Fifield’s liberal use of whistles and saxophones might perturb a few of the traditionalists.
However, Fraser maintains that he has applied the phrasing and techniques associated with piobaireachd, (sometimes known as ‘the classical music of the Highland bagpipe,’) to his own compositions and improvisations.
He is to be commended for ‘liberating’ the bagpipes from their traditional setting, at times merging the worlds of piping, trad and jazz.
Islay residents may recall an earlier attempt to do so almost twenty years ago, on a grander scale, with a collaboration between John Rae’s Big Feet and Islay Pipe Band, premiered at the Islay Jazz Festival.
‘Piobaireachd/Pipe Music’ by Fraser Fifield is released on 25 October and is available on Bandcamp.
1st official review of Piobaireachd 2021!
delighted to contribute to 'the Scotsman Sessions'
review of 'In Mumbai' from Fatea magazine:
"For this fascinating album he has teamed up with three very respected and notable musicians from India: Sabir Khan on sarangi ( a bowed instrument), Saresh Lalwani on violin and viola and Navin Sharma on tabla and other percussion......
..... a wonderful demonstration of the mutual respect and appreciation of four musicians for each other to make a unique sound that resonates long after the album has ended".