July 31, 2000

Leave It To Alberta

They Took Their Leave
Alberta Caledonia Pipe Band
Independently produced
Running time: 45 minutes

Reviewer's rating: 3 gracenotes out of a possible 5

Reviewed by Andrew Berthoff

They Took Their Leave is the Alberta Caledonia Pipe Band’s first recording, comprising 11 tracks and a total playing time of nearly 45 minutes. As with most of today’s pipe band recordings emphasis is placed not on the traditional, but on the modern throughout the CD. On They Took Their Leave Alberta Caledonia occasionally misses the mark, but succeeds often at creating an enjoyable musical experience.

It’s evident that the band is heavily influenced not by other genres of music, but mainly by the work of the other pipe bands. From the first title track, admittedly inspired by the 78th Fraser Highlanders’ prolonged exit from the Maxville massed bands in 1998, the band builds upon solid musical concepts.

Of particular note is the third track, “Djembe Set,” a duet on Shuttle Pipes with percussion accompaniment. This medley of tunes is made up of compositions and arrangements from Neil Dickie, a former pipe major of the band. Nice stuff on very good-sounding instruments, with just the right amount of harmony and counterpoint for added flavour.

Overall, the recording’s well put together, with lots of variety, but, from an ensemble perspective, the band often tends to play a bit behind the beat, lending an overall sluggishness to the playing.

This is especially true in the pure pipe band tracks, such as the medley on track five, and the 9/8 marches comprising the fourth cut, which are otherwise nicely played and well selected and constructed. The band’s “Mealie Puddin'” march, strathspey and reel could use a swig of double espresso, although, once again, it’s nicely together on well-set instruments.

A very big exception to this predominant slow feel is the “Reel/Hornpipe and 7/8’s” track, which moves along with plenty of assertiveness. Starting with Gordon Duncan’s terrific tune, “The High Drive,” from his The Circular Breath recording of 1997, the band picks out the 7/8 rhythm first established by the 78th Frasers in the early 1990s with that band’s adventurous Megantic Outlaw suite.

A trio of Alberta pipers recreate a ceilidh / pub atmosphere and hammer out a whole slew of the obligatory quick stuff, ending with what’s really mostly Angus MacColl’s arrangement of “Cameronian Rant.” Regardless, it’s a fine, driving setting, and the track features lots of whooping from a background crowd. Clever and fun idea, that.

Dickie’s “The Haunting” is presented in a quickie two-minute track with captivating string and Uillean pipe accompaniment, sung in ersatz “canntaireachd” in a nice female voice. This had only just established itself before it ended.

They Took Their Leave is a very good first effort from this very good Grade 1 band. Only five tracks of the 11 on the recording are pure pipe band from beginning to end, thus demonstrating once again that the pipe band trend is moving away from the competition arena to the concert stage.


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