Salsa Celtica,
The Great Scottish Latin Adventure
(Greentrax, 2000)

OK, this is an unusual blend.

It's not often you hear Scottish traditional music blended with Latin ... but Salsa Celtica, apparently a very odd bunch of musicians, have pulled it off. According to the liner notes, The Great Scottish Latin Adventure is "a salsa album made by Scottish musicians in love with Latin music and by South Americ [sic] musicians in love with Scotland!" I can believe it.

But don't let the name or the claim fool you -- this is largely an album of Latin music, with a few touches of Scottish influence thrown into the mix to good effect. Yes, those are the bagpipes you hear on a few tracks, wielded by Fraser Fifield. Yes, fiddler Jenny Gardner has a bit of a Scottish touch. But the dominant sounds and styles here are Latin, particularly the percussion and brass sections. The vocals are sung in Spanish, not Gaelic. The music evokes the southern sun on steamy beaches, not the northern rain on heather and the Highlands.

It's certainly a large group working to provide the sound. Salsa Celtica is Galo Ceron Carrasco on guitar and tres, Toby "El leon" Shippey on trumpet, percussion and coro, Barbey Barnett on alto and baritone saxophones and coro, Fraser Fifield on alto and soprano saxophones, pipes and whistles, Steve Kettley on tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and jaw harp, Jenny Gardner on fiddle and vox, Doug "El pulpo" Hudson on congas and coro, David "Chimp" Robertson on bongos, bell, bata and coro, Guy Nicholson on timbales, and David "Demus" Donnelly and Mario Caribe on bass guitars. As if that's not enough, guests are Carlos Pena on lead vocals, coros and percussion, Paul Harrison on piano, Lino Rocha on percussion and coros, J. Simon van der Walt on trumpet and trombone, Ryan Quigley on trumpet, Phil O'Malley on trombone, and Alberto Ramirez and Sylvia Rae on vocals.

The album, largely made up of original material, is refreshing and fun. (The band's press kit suggests that their first album, 1997's Monstrous y Demonios, Angels and Lovers, included more traditional Scottish tunes in the mix.) Long-time fans of Latin music may find the Scottish touches an intriguing change of pace. And Scottish music fans may enjoy the hints of their tradition enough to explore and enjoy a very different style of music from the European mainland. All in all, this is a successful merger which should go far towards pleasing both camps.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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