MALIN LEWIS – Halocline (Hudson Records HUD051CD)

HaloclineHalocline is the debut album by trans bagpiper, fiddler and composer from the western isles, Malin Lewis. It may help to know what a halocline is as its definition explains two short pieces, ‘Freshwater’ and ‘Saltwater’, so a halocline is an interface between layers of fresh and sea water which forms under certain conditions. Malin’s music encompasses both traditional pipes and fiddle and the Lindsay System Chanter which expands the traditional range to two octaves as well as instruments that Malin made themselves.

The opening track, ‘Hiraeth’, reminds me here and there of ‘Bold Riley’ and is about the island where Malin grew up, hence the sense of longing for a place and time to which they cannot return. It begins at the bottom of the chanter’s range and is slow and mournful and Malin is joined by Luc McNally’s electric guitar and some unidentifiable sounds. ‘Trans’ speaks for itself and lifted by some exceptionally smart fingering as it takes from the melancholy of ‘Hiraeth’ to happier ground. Sally Simpson joins in on fiddle while Stuart Brown’s percussion and Matthew Herd’s saxophones build up the sound.

‘Cycle Lane’, written in Helsinki, is a joyous up tempo piece which features Malin on what sounds like whistle but may be the top of the chanter’s reach. The clarity of ‘Freshwater’ is illustrated by snippets put together by producer Andy Bell who also made the appropriately dark and murky ‘Saltwater’. ‘Lucy’s’ is about a rescue dog, all bounce and the excitement of small dogs everywhere while ‘A Clearing’ grew out of an improvisation.

‘Tune 51’ is the first tune Malin wrote after sending their first tune book off to the printer and definitely comes across as a celebration while ‘The Old Inn’ celebrates the pub where the young Malin played sessions and learned their craft. It initially sounds a little tentative, deliberately I’m sure, but builds in both volume and fluidity. After ‘Saltwater’, ‘Elision’ begins with two sparkling traditional 11/8 dance tunes from Bulgaria and the album closes with ’You Are Not Alone’, a haunting tune written by Estonian jazz guitarist Marek Talts and a fine example of how music crosses the world.

Halocline is a perfect example of how music can move away from its traditional roots and become something different. There are no marching pipe bands here, although they have their place and their adherents, but Malin Lewis is clearly looking forward.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Hiraeth’ – official video:

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