May 31, 2002

The Lee rig

The World’s Greatest Pipers Volume 15 – Jack Lee
Lismor Recordings

Reviewer's rating: 4 gracenotes out of a possible 5

Reviewed by Roger Huth

[Republished from the May 2002 print edition of the Piper & Drummer magazine.]

When the postman delivered Jack Lee’s World’s Greatest Pipers Volume 15, I took it to the car to listen in peace to the sweet, thick tone of Jack’s exquisite chanter and its world-class drone accompaniment. “What music could possibly sound bad coming from this instrument?” I thought as I scanned with interest Willie McCallum’s text about Jack Lee inside the cover.

I tap away to three marvellous 6/8 marches, two of them by Duncan Johnstone. Wonderful stuff, and then a “Bonnie Ann” to follow, along with the mighty “Cameronian Rant” and “Little Cascade.” Masterpieces. Such steady musical playing. An absolute delight with the drones and chanter locked in tune with nary a waver.

Now a beautiful slow air, which I read is called “Eileen Mary Connolly,” and just listen to the harmonics as we break into three jigs, which start me tapping and playing along again – well, at least to “The Geese in the Bog.” This is the first time I have heard “Piping Hot Summer Drummer” and “Andy and Sandy,” which sound so easy from Jack Lee’s fingers and that chanter.

It is now perfect time for some nice hornpipes and here we are on cue with “Londonderry,” “Harry MacAleer’s” and “Pipe-Major George Allan.” There’s some particular John D. Burgess type of nifty fingerwork in the third part of the latter that adds extra spice.

A real test of character follows these dances: over nine minutes of a double march, strathspey and reel set – all big tunes and a brave breath of fresh air with the strathspey, “Neil Sutherland of Lairg” sitting very comfortably betwixt “Lady Louden” and “The Sheepwife.” The first march of this set, “Pipe-Major William MacLean,” was thought by the late Pipe-Major Angus MacDonald to be one of the hardest of them all to play. Jack Lee makes it all sound so easy as he remains steady under pressure. I detect no hint of tiredness from fingers, bagpipe or concentration during the entire set.

Now a piobaireachd in the form of “Lament for the Earl of Antrim.” The bagpipe is rock solid from the urlar on, and the subtle tempo changes for each variation of the theme are is perfection itself. The taorluaths, crunluaths and a machs are all fluid in their musical leads to the theme notes. Not one is rushed nor missed.

Jack Lee then delights my ear once more with two lighter selections of hornpipes, jigs, reels, wee strathspeys, two retreat marches and the slow air, “Mrs. Joy Cairns.” These are tunes that reflect the new and exciting music from the 1980s and ’90s that I heard at the World’s and concerts by those leading contenders Simon Fraser University, 78th Fraser Highlanders, Field Marshal Montgomery, Vale of Atholl, Shotts & Dykehead and Polkemmet.

It is good to be able to repeat all these tracks and to really enjoy this CD. Jack Lee is easily one of the world’s greatest pipers. I look forward to any chance I may get to hear him play again.

Roger Huth lives in London, England, and was a Pipe-Major with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards for many years. He has won numerous solo piping awards, including the Silver Medal at Oban, and is convener of the Scottish Pipers Society of London’s annual competitions.


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