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SKEDUZ "Rag Ar Plinn" Keltia Musique KMCD72
VARIOUS ARTISTS "Femmes De Bretagne" Keltia Musique KMCD74
ORTOLAN "Ensemble de Bombardes" Keltia Musique KMCD71

So what does this reviewer know about Breton music I hear you say? He asks himself the same question I can assure you! A nation holds its breath; - here goes ...

Skeduz are a young five-piece band with a strong debut disc whose initial rush reminded me oddly of the first Doors album on Elektra, such is its freshness and impact. "Tradition" though is all-important to Skeduz, as in fact it is to most of the new generation of Breton groups. The insert notes point that out - quote "Totally committed to the revival, they re not content just to 'be', they create". In that respect whilst the band features what it terms traditional themes and tunes, there are compositions too primarily from the Biniou Kozh (Breton bagpipe) player, Dede Thomas and Yvon Lefebvre, on Bombard. Marches, gavottes and ton simples abound on this totally instrumental, totally absorbing, totally bewitching eight track CD. There's a sense of respect itself apparent throughout. Skeduz are obviously proud of their music - it can in turn be proud of them.

The second CD is exactly what you'd imagine - Lydie Le Gall, Annie Ebrel, Marie-Aline Lagadic and her daughter Klervi Riviere singing wholly traditional songs in Breton and French, accapella, individually and collectively. The women of Brittany have always been essential to the legacy of the vocal traditions of their culture, as the notes point out, which is good to know and here are songs from the Bigouden region, Upper Cornouaille and French speaking Brittany. The "Gwerz" (Breton lament) is well to the fore, and the lyrics are predominantly of love - unrequited, attempted and spurned. It happens every day of course in traditional song and these are excellent performances by superb singers at the peak of their powers. Thankfully the booklet gives a precis of each lyric - especially helpful to the non-Breton speaker/reader! My favourite item is "Labousig ar hoad" with a lovely melody sung by Marie-Aline and Klervi which tells of a sailor asking a young woman to go with him on a boat to England - an offer which is most likely being made even as you read this and one that is refused. Plus ca change!

I approached the final disc with some trepidation. Not one, not two but "Douze musiciens comfirmes" of varying ages but undoubtedly with lungs of steel clutching bombards gaze sternly from the back cover! Pouring a large Glen Ord and adjusting the volume down a tad, we discover that Ortolan meets regularly to form this unique grouping which doesn't just explore Breton music, there are Portuguese, Irish and Bulgarian origins featured plus original compositions too by Christian Faucheur. The massed bombards are joined by various guests on this recording, so that bouzouki, fiddle, flute and percussion provide welcome diversity from what could have been an unrelenting diet of, as we would have it, an instrument similar to the oboe or shawm. Plenty of varied and inventive pieces here from a delightful Basque suite - "Benta Zahar" to a real tour-de-force on an eleven minute "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore" no less with much Musique tradionnelle Bretonne in between. I enjoyed this and learnt a fair amount about Breton music generally from all these Keltia releases. Contact them at 1 place de Beurre, 29000 Quimper, France. Tel: (33) 02-9895-4582.

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 23 of The Living Tradition magazine.