I just got the new opus by Seattle based piping artist, Matthew Turnbull : “Ruffled Feathers.” The first thing that hits is the startling cover art by Shai Steiner (www.myspace.com/shaisteiner). The image is of a rooster in full living color that foreshadows the coming auditory feast. The next most striking attribute to this project is its sleek minimalist style. Most piping recordings are cluttered with ephemera, wistful longings of Brigadoon and Sir Walter Scott rubbish. Not this.
Mr. Turnbull is a first class professional piper who earned his chops in the highly competitive world of Open Class piping in Southern Ontario and Scotland. He is the winner of the Piobaireachd Society Gold Medal (Canada), playing The Menzies Salute. He studied piping under the late Willie Connell of Clydebank Scotland/London Ontario (www.willieconnell.net). He is a multitalented performer, having also danced on Broadway in Twyla Tharp’s company. His background in professional dance inhabits this recording.
The tracks are sprinkled with new and old tunes. The most intriguing aspect of the CD is the musician’s effort to give a unique highlight to each track and then juxtapose each track against the others, providing the listener with peaks and valleys, crescendos and decrescendos creating a whole listening experience. So many piping CDs are simply tunes tacked together without a universal theme. This is different. This isn’t your average piping CD. It is melody and harmony and rhythm as they haven’t been heard before on the Highland Bagpipe.
The CD begins with the Ground or theme of an original tune, Le petit poisson du Cancale. It is a very well played Piobaireachd and the artist returns to it with a following variation in track 14, only with the English title: The little fishie of Calcale, an hommage to the great Breton piper Jackez Pincet. The is followed by an original Calypso piece, not done very often by pipers, but typical of Mr. Turnbull’s range as a musician. The Bicycle Without Wheels is a reference is the artists stolen bicycle wheels while living in New York City. The track begins with the lovely aire Norman Macleod of Sarnia.
Turnbull’s extensive knowledge of the classical music of the pipes is evident with several very tasteful modern arrangements of Too Long in This Condition, The MacGregor’s Salute, The Lament for the Old Sword and the Desperate Battle. What captures the listener is that the artist has selected sections of each piece, to whet the listener’s appetite. To me, the best is The Desperate Battle. It was recorded on a set of 1860’s MacDougalls and in a nod to the Japanese artistic esthetic of Wabi-Sabi, Matt left in a slight note error. He easily could have rerecorded the track, but that would’ve ruined the spontaneity sheer joy of the effort. The artist returns to the Calypso modality with Downtown Dog Lounge (a doggie care facility in Seattle).
The Highland dance roots have not been forgotten with tunes such as the big gun: Blair Drummond (The Blair Drummonds) with selections of nice small medleys of reels and jigs.
Much of Highland piping is characterized my music constructed in sets of 4. Matt was inspired to compose the finale “Zorba in 5s & 7s in part by the Alexander Technique Maestro Pedro deAlcantara, who encouraged Matt to think outside the Highland boxes of 4.
In conclusion, this CD is a remarkable, outstanding and to a traditionalist’s ear, arresting concatenation of tunes with a new vista of the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic possibilities of the Highland Bagpipe. It is creative, evocative, iconoclastic and a must have addition to any listener of Scottish or new music of any kind.