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CHRIS ARMSTRONG - "Quantum Leap" - Lochshore CDLDL 1295

If you thought Gordon Duncan was good, you have to hear this young piper. His first CD was not bad, but this one is a hundred times better: a quantum leap, in fact. In the first three tracks, Chris Armstrong produces piping which would be the envy of Wolfstone, Shotts & Dykehead, and even the MacDonald brothers. This lad can do ceilidh funk, he has pipe band precision, and he can play competition 2/4 marches. What's more, he wrote all the tunes himself: all except one of the thirty-odd tunes here are Armstrong compositions. There are plenty of gems for title buffs: That Cooking Fat, Hoover-Happy Irene, The Cigarette Garden and many more.

Mr Armstrong's playing is technically perfect. He does things I've never heard before on the highland pipes: the rolls on E at the end of track 1 are simply awesome. The arrangements are spot on, too, with some nice double-tracking from Chris as well as excellent whistle from Marc Duff and just the right amount of percussion. Three tracks feature a mini drum corps, and there are fiddles and bouzoukis and the like flying around too, so there's plenty of variety.

You might expect a prolific young composer to be churning out unremarkable tunes, but not this one. There are none of your variations on nine notes here: Chris Armstrong can write catchy, foot-stomping reels and jigs such as The Barachios and The Electric Pumkin (sic), and he can twist times and rhythms into interesting shapes as in The Calabeno and Mrs Irene Armstrong. His more traditional pieces are equally impressive: there are fine strathspeys and reels here, and the 2/4 marches are superb.

Highlights for me are the slow marches, truly beautiful airs arranged for maximum effect, and the small pipes and clarsach duet, and the Wee Calum hornpipes, and the Jaz's Juke Box set of over-the-top reels, and in fact most of the rest of the CD. There's absolutely nothing to criticise on this album, apart from the spelling. Every home should have one.

Alex Monaghan

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