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« AMzer » - Alan Stivell

It is not a traditional album strictly speaking but the contribution of this artist to pop culture is made of the merging of many styles, including the Celtic traditional one. AMzer is not an exception even if we won't hear bagpipes or bombards here : the Celtic harp that Alan - following his father's path - has made rise from the ashes is well represented.

It would have been great to hear an album strictly instrumental as the beautiful one called Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique released in 1971, to appreciate the innovative quality of these harps that sound increasingly like electric guitars without forgetting their origins.
But another choice has been done.
The lyrics are mainly in French, and the groove is not as good as in Breton…
For the record, we also got a few words in Japanese language (haïkus = poems) cutely set to music.
Dedicated to the seasons, it seems that winter is the main one represented in this opus; actually it suffers from a lack of energy, the same energy that was present in the album Explore (2006), a successful encounter between electro and Celtic styles.

Anyway, rythm and melody are finally present on the 8th track, What Could I Do?, played with lower notes on an amazing harp and built like a blues. The last track - instrumental - is also amazing with superb Celtic harps.

In conclusion, we've got a very peaceful record (some soothing notes in a brutal world - Alan speaking).
One can prefer to listen to the Deluxe edition that displays three bonus tracks with two remixes better than the originals.

My selection :

- NEw' AMzer - Spring (track 1) for its Celtic harp, sounding both metallic or crystalline, rough or peaceful; vocals are sometimes fragile but Alan doesn't push his voice too strongly so it appears more in tune than on other records; the whole thing gives a real sensation of spring freshness for a nice introduction where all elements work in harmony,

- Other Times - AmZERioù all (Spring Haïku 1), track 2 : lovely electronic intro with a sweet Japanese voice. Electro sound leads the track with a crystalline harp for a very original tune,

- What Could I Do? (track 8) : Celtic harp with a blues riff! We had to wait until this 8th track to get at last music with some rhythm… That's a deep relief in this record that could end up being stressful or at least disappointing by its systematic research of peaceful tunes… All the ingredients merge very well, also with the whistle coming at the end and the electric guitar sounds - played with the harp of course. An amazing musical cross-over with a great bluesy groove…

- Echu ar GoAÑv? Till Spring? (track 12) : a harp with a nice sound, round and deep with also some crystalline developments for the outro and a great conclusion of this album.

addendum : already more than fifty years for Alan's musical career; he has inspired many artists, including me…
Have a look on the page of the legendary Tri Martolod.

« A Celebration of Pipes in Europe » (1991) - The European Bagpipes in French Cornwall

This album has been recorded live in Brittany (Keltia Musique), displaying a large range of European bagpipes. As it has already been discussed at the page about the Great Highland Bagpipe, bagpipes are not reserved to the Celtic nations but are worldwide instruments.
So the 30 tracks of this double album represent a real testimony of an European living tradition and of the quality of work from makers to players.
As it was recorded live with one only take, the sound is not perfect and suffers from a lack of production.

The repertoires or arrangements take second place here : many tracks are mainly highlighting the piper technical virtuosity.
But the major advantage of this record is an amazing journey from Scotland to Greece, Galicia to Estonia, Brittany to Bulgaria, Ireland, France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, etc.

From time to time, some of these bagpipes or chanters are not very well tuned and their sound could be harsh for many ears; the tracks can also be a bit too long while the melodies that suffer from a lack of arrangements or variations are a bit boring… Technical virtuosity is one thing but playful repertoires with well thought suites could have allowed to reach a larger audience.

One comes up out of this long listening with the feeling to have visited a big archival records museum, sometimes rather old-fashioned, other times with shiny instruments definitely modern and also with pleasant surprises.
I particularly recommand a bagpipe from Belgium, the Moezelzak (CD1 - track 13) with an amazing drone and a chanter very well tuned, the Gaita from Asturia and Galicia (CD1 - track 7; CD2 - tracks 1 & 2), the veuze and the binioù of course and also a French bagpipe, the Bourbonnaise (CD2 - track 11) very well tuned and balanced and with outstanding octaviation abilities.

You surely won't be surprised if I end with the Great Highland Bagpipe that appears to me above all others (*) for its balance, accuracy and its sound : I prefer to hear it with its natural Scottish repertoire despite of the qualities of its duet with the Breton bombard : talking about Brittany, I still prefer the binioù-bombard duet, more typical and shiny.

(*) listen to the video above with Fred Morrison

Albums of Traditional Celtic Music - 2

Bagpipes ain't noise pollution… bagpipes ain't gonna die…
AMzer (2015) - ALAN STIVELL