ON THIS DAY in June 2006, Michael Grey released Shimla Hum on his own label, Dunaber Music. The album was reviewed in Piping Today #23. If you missed it first time around, or if you are just as youngster and haven’t researched as far back as 2006, then it is still available on iTunes and Spotify.

MICHAEL Grey is one of Canada’s leading solo competitors and has a strong Grade 1 band background. On his new album, Shimla Hum, he takes his pipes into territory that is at once exotic and familiar, unsettling and exhilarating: Toronto.

His exploration of fusion with South Asian tempos and tonalities finds swathes of fertile common ground and is set to further extend the interest of a small but growing number of pipers in the South Asian sound that is clambering out of the “World Music” record bins and finding its place in the contemporary Western musical consciousness through the bhangra dance clubs and Bollywood movies that are being increasingly popularised by South Asian diasporic communities in many of the world’s sleekest cities.

Interestingly, Michael Grey has never been to the South Asian continent; rather, the sound has come to him, not least via that Iraqi-inspired track on his Nine Blasted Notes album: fascinated, he just kept heading east, musically speaking.

And, on Shimla Hum, he incorporates the work of Canadian musicians based in Toronto: popular Pakistani-Canadian rocker Farid Khan, Andy Kwiecien, Leslea Keurvorst and “art popper” Jane Siberry, mixed and mastered by his producer Bran Greenwood.

The tunes are pretty much all Michael Grey’s — including his piobaireachd, Salute to Pipe Major Reay Mackay — originally written in traditional piping idioms but arranged to merge with other instrumentation: not least with tabla, dhol drums and voices.

Some tracks may be less successful than others, but the most successful are startlingly good, and the album as a whole is a thrill: refreshing, interesting and probably an indicator that we will see broadening streams of South Asian influence in popular piping performance in the future. by MIKE PATERSON • 2006