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FRED MORRISON 'The Sound Of The Sun' - KRL CDLDL1284

If you count very hard you can get to thirty or so outstanding pipers still playing. These are pipers who make you listen when they play by being a cut above the rest. The number of truly great pipers is nearer half a dozen. These pipers are making an impact on the piping (and wider traditional) world. Their playing transcends sterile discussion on technique and tone and instead focuses on the aesthetics of the music. They are referred to in reverential (although sometimes vilifying) tones by fellow pipers.

One piper definitely in this latter category is Fred Morrison. Ask any piper for a list of the most influential players around and Fred's name will certainly be on the list. Many of today's younger generation of pipers (e.g. Chris Armstrong) quote Fred as their major influence. All of which explains why a new release by Fred has been more eagerly awaited than the bell after double maths. Yet there is an undoubted conundrum here, as pipers who strive to perfect tunes where each bar has a 'correct' way to play it and a tempo that never varies, listen to a piper for whom that very concept is anathema. You are as likely to hear Fred play a tune the same way twice as you are to see a haggis running anti clockwise round a hill!

In Fred's hands tunes evolve. Little embellishments are added, tempos dismantled, sometimes a little faster, sometimes a lot slower. If it works it might stay in the next time. If it doesn't then keep trying until it does. Add to this the fact that Fred has disowned the competitive mode of playing (despite having both Gold medals) in favour of a Hebridian style, throw in some of Fred's own tunes and the result is a mixture so potent that it makes Viagra look like Aspirin.

Fred has also forsaken the Great Highland Bagpipe for the Border (or Reel) pipe in A. This is a marvellous instrument which retains the wantonness that is being slowly exorcised from the modern Highland Bagpipe. In Fred's hands the pipe makes divine (or should that be devilish) music. Strathspey's and reels in Fred's step dance style burst with energy drive and enthusiasm. This is music to boogie to, not to analyse. Strathspeys such as Munlochly Bridge and Bogan Lochan and Reels such as The Grey Bob and The Smith of Chilliechassie are delivered in a powerful rhythmic style which climax in a glorious fusion of flying fingers and driving rhythm. This is no better illustrated than on track seven which ends with a quite awesome rendition of G.S. MacLennan's Alick C MacGregor.

Do not, however, get the idea that this is a one trick horse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Witness Fred's inclusion of two sets of 2/4 marches. The first (John McColls March. and Donald MacLeans Farewell.) played in 'the style adopted during the time they were recorded'. The second set (John McFayden of Melfort and PM Willie Gray's .) based on the playing of Seonaidh Roidean (from South Uist) and using canntaireachd ornaments learned from his father. Both sets are magnificent and revitalise a jaded time signature. Further witness the fact that four of the tracks are played on the low whistle. Its deep mellow sound providing the perfect foil to the Border pipe tracks. Using the low whistle Fred demonstrates his ethos beautifully as he takes the grade four staple, 'Colin's Cattle' and returns it to its Gaelic origins with stunning simplicity. Throw in a track on the Uillean pipes, Sheenaghs Waltz, composed and played by Fred. Add extremely sparing, but effective supporting instrumentalists and the varied tonal landscape of the CD is complete.

Talk of Highlights on this CD are superfluous but special mention must be made of the magnificent skirl on, Frances Morton's, and the extremely poignant and emotional final track, Drumbuie, which is dedicated to Fred's father. A quite stunning piece of music. In truth Fred doesn't put a finger wrong on this CD. It has immediately joined the rare pantheon of essential piping recordings.

Pipers (indeed all traditional musicians) should buy a copy and listen carefully to it. Not to copy blandly from it, but to understand the message contained within it. Music should be a living entity and not be preserved in aspic, every musician should strive to make the tune their own each time they play it. Fred does just that and for that he should be thanked. The fact that the music he produces is cracking to listen too is our added bonus. We may just be witnessing the birth (or is it rebirth) of piping for the new Millennium.

Chris MacKenzie

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