February 29, 2000

Piping With Integrity

Tryst, Iain MacInnes
Greentrax Recordings, CDTRAX 182

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

Reviewed by Scott MacAulay

Iain MacInnes’s Tryst, the latest piping recording from Greentrax, is a triumph of piping with integrity. MacInnes has invited some of Scotland’s leading instrumentalists to join him in weaving a musical masterpiece. On first hearing, the overall musical impression bears the inimitable footprint of producer William Jackson but, make no mistake about it, the piping of Iain MacInnes is the centerpiece of this outstanding collaboration.

The music carries you off through the plaintive airs of the cauld wind pipes in A, C and D, then rouses you up with the driving rhythms and stark clarity of the great Highland bagpipe. With Tony McManus on guitar, Aidan O’Rourke and Mairi Campbell on fiddles, William Jackson alternating on harps and bass, and James MacKintosh on percussion, Iain MacInnes truly has organized a tryst—and there should be nothing secret about it. The individual virtuosity of the players has not been sacrificed in achieving a wonderfully harmonious integration of sound, mood and rhythm.

The longing and pining portrayed to great musical effect in “Angus Ramsay’s Lullaby” is contrasted by the driving and lilting presentation of the late Pipe Major Donald MacLeod’s “Dr. MacInnes’s Fancy.” The compatibility of contemporary and traditional 2/4 Marches as interpreted in Michael Grey’s “Jamie MacInnis of Cape Breton,” followed by “The Portree Men,” is one of the real highlights of this recording.

Much has been made of the debate on different approaches to the throw on D movement in piping. Iain MacInnes’s beautifully rhythmical full throw on Ds in his rendering of “Johnnie MacDonald’s Reel” just might put this argument to rest. “Watery” Willie MacDonald’s composition “Vatersay Bay” is as good a modern composition as I’ve heard in the last decade.

Finally, one has to be inspired by the quality and variety of techniques used in introducing each individual track. The result is a fresh and unpredictable first impression that keeps the interest of the listener throughout. There really isn’t much to criticize on the entire recording apart from a slightly detectable abruptness in the transition between two sets that appears to be the result of an engineering splice.

Iain MacInnes brings a broad and extensive knowledge of the pipe and its history to the recording studio. As an academic, MacInnes earned his Master of Literature degree at Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies with a thesis on Scottish piping history in the period between 1740-1840.

Not surprisingly then, Tryst represents, in many ways, a historical review of different approaches to pipe music spanning a period of some 180 years. Knitting these separate entities into a cohesive musical whole presents a very real challenge. The brilliant production of William Jackson more than meets that challenge and makes listening to this recording a must.

MacInnes is well known as a producer and presenter of the BBC Radio Scotland’s “Pipeline” program, and some may not know just how good a player he is. This recording clearly demonstrates his immense talent as a piper and this body of work further establishes his credentials as an authoritative figure and presenter of piping.

Scott MacAulay is Director of the College of Piping & Celtic Performing Arts at Summerside, Prince Edward Island. As a piper, his awards are many, including the Silver Medal at Inverness and virtually every major light music prize in North America.


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