Iain Mac Harg,
Rooted In Tradition
(self-released, 1999)

From the rollicking bagpipe strains of "Sleepy Maggie" to the hauntingly wistful low whistle on "Killian's Green Fairy Hill," Iain Mac Harg packs a power punch with his collection of traditional and original tunes on his solo recording, Rooted In Tradition. Mac Harg displays his mastery of both fingering and emotion with this well-chosen selection of tunes, providing the listener with a cornucopia of sounds.

The best way to hear quality bagpipe playing is to listen to solo pipers. When played solo, the bagpipe presents nuances through the elaborate grace notes that are seldom heard and comprehended when bagpipes are played in a band. However, only serious bagpipe fans are going to be interested in the average solo bagpipe album. Without the piper to watch, or some sort of band back-up, many people will tune out the sound before the recording ends. Iain Mac Harg has overcome this problem by intermixing his outstanding piping tracks (both Great Highland bagpipe and Scottish smallpipe) with tracks featuring the Irish flute and whistles. This contrast of texture, along with a number of tracks with backing instrumentation, creates constantly invigorating music for the listener.

Mac Harg's artistry shines through on both upbeat and contemplative tunes. His understanding of Cape Breton music is well-captured in the energetic "Trip to Cape Breton" set, featuring traditional tunes "Forest Lodge" and "High Road to Linton," backed by the typical Cape Breton piano style. His smallpipe flexibility is perhaps best shown on "Minor Adjustments," where he deftly moves from tempo to tempo, beginning with an inspired air, "Rowing from Islay to Uist," backed by a slightly dissonant drone, giving the ear just the right tweak. He plunges ahead into the same tune as a driving jig, and manages to end with a pair of reels with finesse and grace. The effect is stunning. Mac Harg's whistle and flute playing are equally impressive, as displayed on his heart-wrenching lament for his defunct band, "Whisky No More," and his Irish jig set featuring "Cook in the Kitchen," "Seamus Cooley's" and "Jimmy Ward's."

Another memorable traditional tune, "Bright Quiet Eileen O'Carrol," features the Great Highland pipe backed by Celtic harp in a breathtaking arrangement. While most of Mac Harg's arrangements treat traditional tunes with tradition and respect, he takes great liberties with "Sleive Russel," playing it on an electric chanter. The result is fascinating.

Despite his excellent playing and arranging, Mac Harg's greatest gift to the music world may very well lie in his original compositions. His new music for the bagpipe is energetic, distinctive and memorable. His "A Fond Farewell," written for his pipe teacher and backed by a digeridoo type of sound, can bring tears to the eyes. My favorite set on the recording features a pair of his original compositions. "Suite 316" and "The Big Chanter" are modern, strident and exciting, while still incorporating much that gives them a traditional feel. The pipes are well-backed by effective percussion, and the use of echo and harmony make this a stand-out track.

[ by Jo Morrison ]