Pipedown: The First Measure
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The First Measure
Greentrax (www.greentrax.com)

Not surprisingly, The First Measure, the debut recording from Scottish instrumental quartet Pipedown, is a bagpipes album, dominated by Irish piper Lee Moore. Moore plays with a focused, restrained fury, as if seeking to burst through each melody to its Platonic essence, but not before perfectly articulating the briefest grace note. Steve Fivey's hand drums impart extra spunk along with tonal variety. The contributions of Alex Campbell's mandolin and mandola, and Steve Reid's guitar, are more subtle, at times supplementing the pipes lead with a percussive bounce, at others laying down graceful, contrasting chording against which the pipes soar. Each of the eleven tracks on "The First Measure" is also an exercise in the art of the medley, concatenating both new and traditional tunes via principles of similarity and variety.

The record kicks off with "The Rebel," a masterful variety medley. A drone start leads into "The Rebel Without Applause," a crisp melody backed by hand drums, Moore's pipes precise even on the quickest arpeggios. "For a Second Glance" is so triplet-infected as to be nearly a fast waltz, bouncy with subtle guitar counterpoints, yet arising seamlessly out of its predecessor. "Jeannie Robertson" returns to a loping common time, with tight interplay between guitar and pipes, the medley concluding with the energetic "The Highlander Kissed His Mother," nearly a two-step. Five and a half minutes of relentless drive may leave you exhausted, but the smoothness of the transitions will leave you pleased.

The "Reels" medley plays more on similarity. "Dr. MacInnes Fancy" opens with a drone and a blood-curdling bagpipe melody, one of the favorite sounds for highland pipes aficionados, quick, insistent, deceptively simple, guitar alternately droning and echoing the lead figure. A similar melody, with some surprising chord changes, emerges in "The Plagiarist's Reel." "The Gravel Walks" provides a mid-medley note of frenzy, while "The Congress Reel" ends with a sophisticated interplay between pipes and guitar chording.

And that's only two of the eleven medleys on The First Measure, each an album in itself. Lee Moore's driven bagpipe virtuosity thrills, but never becomes either maudlin or self-indulgent. Supporting instrumentation and arrangement are so tight as to seem organic, medley choices surprise without jarring. For pipe lovers, it doesn't get much better. - Jim Foley

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