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LIAM O'FLYNN "The Piper's Call" Tara TARACD3037

Probably the finest uilleann piper of his generation, and a founder member of Planxty, Liam O'Flynn has played with the best of Irish traditional musicians as well as classical orchestras and many other musical traditions. All this experience comes through on his new recording: solo Irish piping alternates with orchestral arrangements and ensemble pieces including a Scottish strathspey and two sets of Galician tunes.

The core of this CD is traditional Irish music arranged for a small ensemble with whom Liam has been performing for the last two or three years: Arty McGlynn and Steve Cooney on guitars, Rod McVey on keyboards and Liam Bradley on percussion. Guests include Sean Keane and Matt Molloy of The Chieftains, Carlos Nunez from Galicia, Mark Knopfler from Planet Nashville, and the Irish Chamber Orchestra and friends.

The opening track is a beautifully relaxed and understated pair of traditional jigs. The music flows from the pipes like porter from a tap: smooth, unhurried and full of flavour, with just enough bite to it. Track 2 is traditional again, hornpipes this time, and then we come to the first unusual track. "An Droichead" is a slow air commissioned from Liam by Irish president Mary McAleese, as part of her "Building Bridges" initiative: Liam performed it solo at her inauguration, but on this recording he's joined by Mark Knopfler on electric guitar. This track is followed by the strathspey "Miss Admiral Gordon's", a William Marshall tune given a suitably formal arrangement: the Irish pipes don't quite have the snap of their Scottish cousins, though.

Two more excellent traditional Irish tracks follow, a beautiful rendition of the slow air "Sliabh na mBan" and a set of reels where Liam is joined by Sean Keane and Matt Molloy to give an almost Planxty/Bothy Band sound. But the best is still to come.

Track 7 sees Liam duetting with Carlos Nunez on a couple of Galician jig-time tunes. The build-up on this track is terrific, solo pipes becoming double pipes becoming full band, and I'd swear there was double tracking at some points: magical stuff. A more down-beat Galician track finishes the album in fine style, but before that there are three gems of Irish music.

First we have Micheal O Suilleabhain's six-minute orchestral arrangement of "Bean Dubh an Ghleanna", a classic slow air which has been tackled by Liam, Matt and Sean in the past. Next there's a set of four reels including a spine-tingling delivery of "Mayor Harrison's Fedora" and a stunning change into a tune I'm sure is Scottish. For me, this is the most powerful set on the CD. Finally, we have a return to the old piping classics with "The Gold Ring", a virtuoso 7-part jig on which Liam's playing sparkles but the fiddling of Sean Keane is simply dazzling.

This has to be one of the best albums of the year, and if this isn't enough there's an accompanying video available soon from Hummingbird Productions.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 29 of The Living Tradition magazine.