Red Hot Chilli pipers star James Harper has recently released his long-awaited first solo album Culzean, named after a famous castle in Ayrshire. The line up that accompanies him on the nine tracks here includes some renowned musicians from Britain, such as Mohsen Amini and Ciaran Ryan, but also musicians from other countries such as Italian fiddler David Lombardi and French guitarist Jean Damey.
It is an album of mainly original compositions, but opens with an impressionistic rendition of a traditional tune, Cladach Uaine, that provides a climax before Montelago, a sparkling and multifaceted set of tunes, named after the location of the biggest folk music festival in Italy. The flow of energy goes on with Dangar Falls, before the title track, an airy march played on a low whistle at first, then performed on the pipes with the whole ensemble coming in, adds a slightly more meditative touch.
The set of polkas Eiggmare represents a perfect sample of the sound produced by this line up and a bridge to the second half of the album, including You’re Alive, the only song on this release, delivered by Jack Badcock’s voice on a simple yet intelligent arrangement. The album closes with the short and warm sounding Coffs, in which Amini’s concertina and Harper’s low whistle interweave their sounds for a stunning conclusion.
Despite its similarity to other bagpipe-centred albums, there are two factors that differentiate Culzean from them. First of all, the long time needed to write, choose and arrange this material is palpable in every single detail, resulting in the natural synergy and precision of every single passage. Secondly, the line up’s contribution is more than just accompaniment, especially Lombardi’s fiddle notes that float around the main melody lines, defining subtle harmonies to discover at every listen.
It was well worth the long wait for this album, different in style from the Red Hot Chilli Pipers’ work that Harper has contributed to, but equally full of thriving energy and vibrancy.Michele Mele
Released on CD and digitally on 1 July 2020. Recorded, mixed and produced by Scott Wood at Oak Ridge Studios.
1. Cladach Uaine
3. Dangar Falls
6. You’re alive
7. The Jake Bag