Mike Katz,
A Month of Sundays
(Temple, 2004)

One of America's finest exports to Scotland, Mike Katz, piper and whistle player with the Battlefield Band, presents a solo album that displays his consummate skills to perfection. Accompanied by guitarist Kevin MacKenzie, fiddlers John Martin and Alasdair White, and concertina wizard Simon Thoumire, Katz shows his mastery of the Highland pipes, Scottish smallpipes and whistles in 15 tune sets from the Isles, Brittany and his own eclectic musical imagination.

When you hear MacKenzie's percussive guitar start off the first track, you might wonder if you put on the wrong CD, but then Katz's pipes enter, and you know you're in piper's heaven. Highland pipes by their very nature provide a rhythmic pulse, but the guitar and concertina add an additional drive that is simply irresistible. The tunes in this set, and the others to come, complement each other perfectly, and the transitions from one to the other are prime examples to those seeking to create their own sets. There's enough variety so that each tune sounds different, but enough similarity so that each set becomes an organic whole.

Katz and White do wonders on the second set with unison fiddle and pipes, while the third offers a welcome change to the smallpipes, White's fiddle matching note for note in a charming wedding of tones. On the fourth set, the rhythms of the pipes and the guitar are almost dueling with each other, making for a fine musical tension that seems less traditional and almost jazz-like. The following set of quicksteps reminds us of the glorious sounds that the pipes can make all on their own. Katz's playing is impeccable, with every note as sharp as a bell.

By set seven, Katz is ready for some whistles, and they're played as magnificently as his pipes. The Breton air, "Marig Ar Pontolan," receives a tender and elegant reading, with the addition of a more modern sound on guitar synthesizer that seems perfectly in keeping with the tune. A pair of Breton marches ("more saunter than march perhaps," Katz says) show grand interplay between pipes, guitar and Martin's fiddle. There's more gorgeous conversation between guitar, smallpipes and whistles on a set that begins with "The Unst Wedding March." The haunting and mordant "Dark Lowers the Night" shares a set with Katz's own sprightly title tune that blasts away from the tune preceding it. The final set ends the CD in a traditional manner with pipes and White's fiddle, a stirring tribute to the roots of this noble and stirring music.

Mike Katz is a marvel, and so is this album. If you love the sound of Celtic instrumental music at its best (and what Rambles reader doesn't?), this disc is a must-have.

by Chet Williamson
12 November 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.