Celtic Connections review: Finlay MacDonald & Torupilli Jussi Trio, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Just sometimes, the language barrier can be a mercy. Sharing the bill with Scottish piper Finlay MacDonald, the Estonian trio Torupilli Jussi performed a song which, they assured us, involved moose testicles.
Finlay MacDonaldFinlay MacDonald
Finlay MacDonald

Finlay MacDonald & Torupilli Jussi Trio, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

Gruesome details apart, they were engaging performers, their Estonian bagpipe – the torupill – chirping and squalling querulously alongside ringing fiddles, its three drones, projecting horizontally from a low-hung bag, looking disquietingly like triple rocket launchers.

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The evening opened with Breabach piper James Duncan Mackenzie launching his album Sròmos (named after a cleared village in his native Lewis) with the aid of a hefty septet of fiddle, guitars, bass guitar, keyboards and drums. Much of it was led by Mackenzie on flute, lilting nicely in the opening jig and the later Long Walk and switching to Highland pipes for the forceful Blue Men of the Minch and a triumphant conclusion, although the drums, while driving things along, sometimes shackled otherwise lightsome playing.

Macdonald deployed lighter forces – seasoned guitarist Ross Martin, keyboards and bodhran – and switched deftly between low whistle and Border pipes, the latter in some hell-for-leather jigs and reels, not least when joined by long-time collaborator, fiddler Chris Stout, for a fiery set. Another guest was the young Breton Enora Morice, who powerfully delivered an old song about the drowned city of Ys.

The irrepressible Estonians returned, their piper’s Jew’s harp lacing twangy overtones through MacDonald’s whistle playing in the kind of heady, cross-cultural spree in which Celtic Connections excels,.