Iain MacInnes reviews Chris Gray’s debut recording.
As Scotland’s pipers explore ever wider musical horizons, this beautifully-made debut CD from Chris Gray points the way to what can be achieved.
Gray comes with an impressive piping pedigree (he was a pupil of Tony MacDonald’s in his native Lockerbie), as well as being a highly accomplished whistle and piano player. The music is all self-penned, and this helps to give integrity – a distinctive musical imprint – to the whole recording. With a gifted band which includes the ever-inventive Innes White on guitar, Alice Allen on cello and James Lindsay and Mark Scobbie on bass and drums respectively, Gray treats us to the fruits of his musical imagination.
The whistle tunes perhaps stand out most strongly, good melodies that sound fun to play, and which could in time work their way into the wider session repertoire.
I was particularly drawn to Lappis, a tune composed after a period studying in Stockholm, and also Argyll Bound, which had me thinking of John McLellan from Dunoon, composer of tuneful retreat marches – this is the sort of music he might have produced had he had a whistle to hand rather than a practice chanter.
There’s some thrilling interplay with concertina-player Mohsen Amini on The Haas Jig, and Laura-Beth Salter makes a number of telling contributions on mandolin, most notably in the sweet melody 8 Mins in Schiphol.
Graham MacKenzie is part of the line-up, too. His adroit fiddle playing adds heft to the excellent 7/8 tune In Between At The Riverside, and also features in the exuberant bagpipe-driven High Voltage, the track which perhaps comes closest to the familiar bagpipe pomp of the big festival stage.
Most of the album, though, is rather more laid-back and reflective. Gray’s piano playing is a constant rippling presence, taking the melodic lead from time to time, providing the occasional jazz-inflected spike. It’s perhaps this which gives the album real cohesion, a thread binding disparate musical strands together, making for a very satisfying whole.
The playing throughout is exemplary and Calum MacCrimmon deserves huge credit as co-producer (alongside Gray). An impressive debut.
If you would like to hear the album, head to Chris’ website here.
• Iain MacInnes is a leading Scottish folk musician who has played in a number of folk bands including The Tannahill Weavers, Smalltalk, Ossian, and his own band. He retired at the end of March 2020 as the producer of the BBC Radio Scotland piping programme, Pipeline.