There is no piper culture here in Finland. Some of our Middle Age stone churches have wall paintings that do feature pipers – I have seen them myself – but the instrument seems to have pretty much left our country during the 16th and 17th centuries. The reason is not known to me and it is a bit of a mystery, since bagpipes remained, even if only in a smalle role, in our neighboring regions, Estonia and Sweden.
That will have to do as a disclaimer. I wrote it because I don’t know jack shit about actual, real bagpipe playing but I’m still going to say something about two albums overflowing with pipe playing. And I will not apologize, either, because I find both albums quite stunning and very unique.
Fraser Fifield’s 🏴 Piobaireachd / Pipe Music was released a year ago but only now found its way into my headphones. Listening to all of it in one session was a head-spinning experience, as Fifield creates this almost… I dunno, sacred or meditative space with his arsenal of pipes and just some extra instrumentation here and there, playing everything himself, one hundered per cent.
The pieces range of veritably ancient Scottish pipe melodies to trad tunes to his own compositions (some come with quite Nordic jazz shades) and even some improvised pieces. The vibe on the album is mighty strong and takes you to a headspace that can be even a bit intimidating. There’s some strong aural medicine here.
Of course, your attitude and take on bagpipes in general is critical. If you dislike even the sound, you will find this very, very challenging. But, on the other hand, the pipe music presented and played here is not your regular marches and strathspeys, drums’n’pipes stuff, but may even open a new perspective to the instrument, if you are honestly curious and patient enough. In any case, Piobaireachd is one-of-a-kind and hugely successful in its ambition.
A brand new release from the top of the piping realms, Las offers a different kind of piping feast. Ross Ainslie and Brigdhe Chaimbeul 🏴 are familiar names to piping fans and just the concept of them recording an album together is a treat.
As it turns out, Las, a bit like Fifield’s unique release, is not your standard piper stuff. The entire album is played by Ross and Brigdhe on C smallpipes only, not the Highland pipes or uillean pipes you might expect, with Steven Byrnes giving more than worthy accompaniment on the acoustic guitar.
The tunes feature both original and trad material and are sequenced in such a way the album feels like one piece with several movements. Of course, having the same instrumentation on every track can create that impression as well.
I was initially worried that the album might come across as repetitive, but no worries: the quality of the playing is exhilarating by itself, there are many faster tunes that make your blood race, and also some nice plateau moments when the guitar has a bit more space.
And the sound of those smallpipes is indeed intriguing: softer and more ”singing” than the Highland pipes but with more attack than Uillean or Northumberland pipes. Sounds very good throughout, even to someone who does not really know anything about playing the pipes… 😉