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MACMASTER STEPS UP CAPE BRETON FIDDLING

Concert review

Natalie MacMaster

Celtic fiddler

Wednesday night in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts.

Natalie MacMaster, a truly amazing performer, is not only one of the finest young proponents of Cape Breton style fiddle playing, she is also a fine step dancer and has developed a way with audiences that puts them at ease almost instantaneously. All of these factors went into making her concert on Wednesday night such a joy to watch and hear.

The young fiddler and her five-piece band entertained a fairly full house at the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts, playing material from her latest CD release ("Blueprint") and slipping in selections from some of her prior albums, all the while dipping into the rich, Scottish inflected musical tradition so prevalent in Canada's Cape Breton.

Medleys were a big part of the show, meshing jigs, reels and strathspeys much as if MacMaster was playing for a rowdy village function back home. Individual set pieces like Phil Cunningham's devilishly clever instrumental piece "The Appropriate Dipstick" also provided excuses for storytelling (an amusing anecdote about government funding for the arts), giving MacMaster a chance to relate to the audience while collecting her breath from her energetic meshing of the terpsichorean with the musical.

She wasn't chary with the spotlight either. Her musicians, including drummer Miche Pouliot whose short, compact solo at the end of the show was a model blend of efficiency and flash, benefited from the opportunity to display the skills they brought to the party.

During the first set, bassist John Chiasson sang a pleasant, passable rendition of the old pop standard "My Romance," but his talents were better served by a number of powerful, rolling solos on his five string bass throughout the evening.

Guitarist Brad Davidge's rendition of "Danny Boy (Londonderry Air)" seemed to be an audience favorite judging from the applause it generated but, in many ways, bagpiper (and occasional banjo player) Matt MacIsaac almost stole the show by beginning the second set with a phenomenal display of pibroch, a traditional and highly stylized art for solo piper.

It was, however, those moments when MacMaster paired off with piano player and fellow Cape Breton native Alan Dewar that were truly special and somehow more intimate, just as if the two of them were playing in your kitchen at a party.