Ross Munro: Twisting the Bagpipes Tradition

Twisted Tradition
Greentrax 384

Twisted Tradition might seem like an odd tack to take for a Scottish piper of Ross Monro's pedigree. After all, he apprenticed at the knee of John D. Burgess, MBE (1934-2005), who was renowned for his mastery of the demanding piobaireachd tradition generally associated with formal competition piping. Like his mentor, Munro also joined the British Army and submitted to the rigors of pipe band music, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Munro's case. If any one person deserves credit for leading Munro down the less-regimented (pun intended) path it's Edinburgh's Iain McKinna, who included Munro and the Royal Guards on the award-winning Spirit of the Glen trilogy that melded military and classical music. Munro retired from the army in 2013, and found himself in McKinna's Offbeat Studio for his first solo endeavor.

Offbeat indeed! A lot of this album is more in the spirit of the mosh pit than competition piping. "The Gravel Path" opens with pulsing electronic sounds evocative of a didgeridoo before Munro kicks up stones with a bold report of notes that turn the path into a racecourse. Whether by accident or desire for wordplay, the next track also suggests Australia, at least in title: "Roo Joey." Like many of the tracks, it features drum loops and midi arrangements. Purists might scoff at such studio tricks, but let's face it–the Highland pipes only produce nine notes and even if you're a skilled master such as Munro and can stretch the range with grace notes and key shifts, it's a challenge to make a solo pipe album sound contemporary. You'll also hear some actual guitar, bass, and drums (McKinna, Ed Lowden), touches of brass, and vocal fill (Kirsty Anderson), but mostly it's Munro, his pipes and his midi. When he wants to sound contemplative, as on "The Dark Island," he overlays some whistle, but this album is about confounding expectations. For instance, Munro takes a serene tune such as "Lexie," lures us into a mellow space, and then breaks into a spirited version of "Jenny Dang the Weaver."  And he definitely has the dance hall crowd in mind with the club tempo of "Funky Paddy" and the boogey-down heartbeat pulses of "High Road to Itchiness." I have no idea what the trad crowd will make of "Cuimhneachan," which is how I imagine hypnotic music for robots to sound. No matter what one thinks of this project–and I like it a lot–Munro is a man of his word. Beware: Ross Munro has doffed his army kit and he's in a tradition-twisting mood!
Rob Weir

No comments: