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Live – Natalie MacMaster

Rounder Records 11661-7048-2

Traditionalists have been dismayed with Natalie MacMaster, as the Cape
Breton violinist ostensibly forgot her humble beginnings to garner
widespread acclaim. To these self-appointed traditionalists, the goal of
musical notoriety resulted in MacMaster adding drums, electric bass and a
pop-inspired vivaciousness to her performances. The problem for the
curmudgeons did not involve MacMaster's tone or her musical selections,
which were fundamentally antiquated, but the context which she presented
these songs — a context which became enough to decry MacMaster's attempts
as destructive to the "argument of culturally and historically significant
music," as a Bergerian might contend.

However, the only destruction occurring on Live concerns MacMaster's
force and will as a performer. Darol Anger once described MacMaster as
"sounding dangerous", which the traditionalists conspicuously analyzed
incorrectly. Her danger comes from a zeal she adds to the music, where the
listener inexorably nods her head, and begins dancing. Likewise the
prominent dangerous aspect of the music means for a less redundant
exploration of various, outwardly banal reels and jigs.

One of the most consistent problems with Gaelic music for the uninitiated
might be the lack of differentiation from one piece to the next. For the
performer, the differences between "Charlie Hardie's Reel" and "The Fairy
Dance," from MacMaster's Live, are as patent as the differences
between "On Green Dolphin Street" and "No Blues" for a jazz player. When I
have conversed with various Gaelic players, they tell me "in the first seven
notes, the song's title and construction becomes readily clear".

When MacMaster and her cadre tackle "Torna a Surriento," a melange of two
flamenco pieces and an Irish reel, the reels similarity modally to the
flamenco pieces seems astonishing; something a layman would rarely have
conceived via her a priori knowledge. People like myself desperately
desire the differences which MacMaster accentuates with the inclusion of
various instrumentation. The listener can locate the changes, the movement
from reels to jigs (and vice versa), and become somewhat educated by a realm
of music which has an element of perceived tautology.

Once the listener acknowledges and perceives the remarkable differences
between the jigs and reels, the second disc serves the purpose of furthering
the educational process for the listener. Consisting of an extremely
traditional square dance performance by MacMaster in her native Cape Breton,
the disc highlights MacMasters foundational, melodic convictions;
purposefully underscoring the first disc's sound. Traditionalists may cringe
at the first disc and genuflect the second disc, but for the majority of the
public, MacMaster's Live offers a first rate education in a
historically compelling art form.

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