Natalie MacMaster


CAPE BRETON is a rambling island of 60,000 people on the north western tip of Nova Scotia. Thirty per cent of these are of Irish descent, sixty per cent from the Scottish Western Isles, an early 1800s migration which created the Scottish dominant culture of the present day. The core of this is step dancing and fiddle playing, and the star among today's younger musicians is Natalie MacMaster.

Down home ordinariness veneered with big stage presence and drama was this player's stamp: she talked, moaned a bit, asked for a seat and began. Then the chair was kicked back, she took to her" feet - as did pianist Tracy Dares - and from there on a la Red Shoes, she is played by, the fiddle. Long, intense and mood manipulating sets in the Scottish mixed tune fashion, led her from paced air or slow march into strathspeys, thence, to reels. Names were irrelevant, sources were not: the Egans, Rankins, Beatons, all active musicians from the Irish and Canadian melting pot.

Somehow triumphing over appalling sound resolution and volume, MacMaster excelled on both Irish reels like Pigeon on the Gate and Maid Behind the Bar, and on big Scots skinner and other strathspeys digging in with a bottom end as liberal as an open caste dragline bucket, a bite on her bowing that prompted a whole new respect for horsehair.

Likewise, Dares worked her instrument in honky tonk overdrive from both ends, one hand virtuosity, on beat and off beat vamp, skirting around the tone and then, typically, into the melody, shifting not only listeners' ears, but eyes as well.

And these women danced, too! Dares hopped around at the piano and, like Michael Coleman in another age, MacMaster never settled, finally taking off in a full blast showpiece of step dancing to her own escalating selected highlights of Sally Gardens and Dublin Reel, coming to ground finally on a Jenny's Chicken's which underscored the common ground of taste and titillation that, on Cape Breton, Irish and Scottish music share.

. A review of an art exhibition in the Dyehouse Gallery, off Mary Street in Waterford city, stated incorrectly that the gallery was in Limerick. The name of one of the artists, Eithne Jordan, was given as Eithne Carr. The exhibition closes tomorrow.

. The jazz concert featuring Andy Cleyndert in the Edmund Burke Hall, Trinity College, Dublin, takes place at 8 p.m. tonight, not tomorrow night, as inadvertently stated in an earlier edition.