September 30, 2002

Boum boum, out go the lights

La Boum Ecosse
Shotts & Dykehead Pipe Band with Bagad Brieg
Douglas Music

Reviewer's rating: 4.5 gracenotes out of a possible 5

Reviewed by Bob Worrall

La Boum Ecosse is the follow-up recording to the 2001 “pre-World’s” concert at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Last year’s concert, like the previous year’s “Four Band” event, presented the audience with a unique musical collaboration. This live recording showcases the Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band with Bagad Brieg, one of Brittany’s leading Grade 1 bagads. What resulted from this pairing was quite outstanding. The recording is simply superb.

Eight of the recording’s 18 tracks feature Shotts giving us an excellent cross section from their own repertoire. One traditional MSR and a full medley are complemented by five shorter selections. I was quite impressed with many of these selections, some of which present us with an arrangement around one tune. Robert Mathieson’s “The Big Birl” and the Jim Nisbet composition, “Howl at the Moon,” are two of these that stand out. The simplicity of this approach works extremely well. There is so much to digest in this recording. The intermixing of short but familiar Shotts tracks gives the traditional pipe band audience a little more time to fully appreciate and prepare for the contribution of Brieg to the evening’s performance.

Live recordings usually have to be somewhat forgiving at some point in the performance. Shotts maintained its patented tonal and technical brilliance throughout all tracks. No forgiveness required. All selections are delivered with masterful confidence. This confidence is reflected in the entire Shotts ensemble. In fact, the integration between Jim Kilpatrick’s corps and the pipe section is a highlight. Concert halls can quite often wreck havoc on a pipe band’s ensemble. This recording, as the actual live performance did, gives us an excellent percussion to pipe corps blend, allowing all components of the band to shine on individual tracks. The ninth track showcases the drum corps with an impressive fanfare by Jim Kilpatrick.

The top flight bagads from Brittany have been stretching ensemble within their own idiom for many years. La Boum Ecosse gives the uninitiated bagad listener a superb cross section of Breton music through the sophisticated arrangements of Bagad Brieg. Three of the tracks feature Brieg on their own, while six have Shotts integrated into the Bagad “mix.” The results of the collaboration are highly successful. Brieg possesses an extremely skilled pipe corps and one of Brittany’s leading bombard and percussion sections. Put that together with the Robert Matheson/Jim Kilpatrick Shotts ensemble, and Breton tunes explode with excitement. The variety of percussion from Brieg and the dynamics and harmonic impact from its bombard section will undoubtedly win over the uninitiated. The bombards are highlighted in track three.

As was the case with the Shotts contribution to the concert, many of Brieg’s selections represent one tune or a suite from one of their successful competitive medleys. Most have been penned and arranged by B. Lovet. Some of these represent traditional Breton dance music. Others stretch the bagad idiom and come close to representing a merging of jazz and traditional Breton music. Keep in mind that Brieg is considered the risk taker among Brittany’s Grade 1 bagads.

The Shotts/Brieg collaboration on track two in the delivery of “La Boum” reflects what the CD is truly all about: musical collaboration. It was initially the centrepiece of a tremendous Brieg medley that I first heard in Lorient, France, four summers ago. I was awe struck with the piece when I first heard it and have never tired of the melody line. All the remaining excellence of the CD aside, it is worth adding to your collection simply from the standpoint of the arrangement of this tune on tracks two, 17 and 18. Track 17 features Haley Alexander, a member of Shotts, giving a lovely vocal rendition of “La Boum.” Robert Mathieson penned its lyrics. This track foreshadows the final track, a final return by Shotts and Brieg to “La Boum.” If this doesn’t inspire you and raise the hair on the back of your neck, then nothing will.

The production, engineering and mixing on this CD enhance all tracks to their fullest. Kudos to Murray Blair, Sandy Lobban and Robert Mathieson for their success in finalizing what must have been a very difficult concert to bring to CD format. The variety of instrumentation, vocals and the staging complexity associated with two different ensembles undoubtedly presented a unique recording challenge.

If I had one criticism of the CD it would be its inclusion of only part of the duet by Pascal and Dominique Meunier performing on two of the ancient pipes from central France. It was a highlight of the concert and I was looking forward to hearing it in its entirety on the recording. However, like so many selections in the concert and the follow-up CD, it leaves us wanting more. This is a reflection of wise staging at the concert and equally intelligent production and mixing. La Boum Ecosse gets two thumbs up from this reviewer.

Bob Worrall is one of the world’s best-known pipers. In great demand as a teacher and adjudicator, Worrall enjoyed a superlative solo career, winning, among other prizes, both the March and Strathspey & Reel at the Northern Meeting. He is a high school teacher by profession, and lives in Burlington, Ontario.


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