Review: Ro:Toro – live performance

By:

I came across this amazing Estonian band quite by accident when the concert organiser, a friend of mine, thrust a leaflet in my hand. She was concerned that an Estonian folk group featuring two bagpipers, a modern jazz saxophonist, a rock guitarist and a percussionist who plays on plastic washing bowls would not be a big seller in a small conservative village, unnecessarily as it turned out; the hall was full to capacity and I was the only piper in the audience!

This was their last gig in a month long tour of small village venues, which was their second UK tour in 2010, so we were met with a well- honed, tight ensemble with a finely -tuned understanding of British humour. The pipers, Cätlin Jaago and Sandra Sillamaa are highly respected performers on the Torupill which is the Estonian bagpipe, traditionally using a seal’s stomach for the bag (but, thankfully no longer). The chanter shares many of the characteristics of eastern European pipes: cylindrical bore, single reed. There were three drones projecting from the bottom of the bag which were tuned, as far as I could tell, as g, D/E, G, with the bottom note on the chanter playing d.

The chanters were pretty sophisticated, and seemed to be virtually chromatic. For the curious, there is a good description on http://www.pillimeister.torupillitalu.ee/ indexeng.php Interestingly, we were told that although the Torupill was traditionally played by men, nowadays it is almost exclusively played by women.

As to the performance itself, I could not fault it, the programme varying from very traditional unadorned melodies and songs, to some avant garde sax-based jazz improvisation from Marko Mägi, ably supported by imaginative electric guitar from Marek Talts . However, I particularly enjoyed the interplay between the sax and the pipes, with the pipers holding the melody and the sax weaving an ever more complex improvisation before dropping back to the tune. At times, I was reminded of Hamish Moore and Dick Lee in their approach, both respectful of their tradition but not being afraid to push the boundaries. The pipers were totally attuned to each other and their close harmony and unison playing was a joy to hear.

A final mention must be made of the percussionist, Silver Sepp who performs on random percussive objects most notably a selection of plastic washing bowls inverted in water. Far from being just splashy, he coaxes such a range of tones from them that I am surprised that the “instrument” is not more widely known!

All in all, an excellent performance. You can hear them on YouTube and their MySpace page.

Ro:Toro’s next UK tour dates:

Fri 11 Mar 8pm Shindig Worcester Arts Workshop 01905 21095

Sat 12 Mar 7.30pmShindig Stoulton Village Hall 01905 841260

Sun 13 Mar 8pm Shindig Cleeve prior Memorial V Hall 01789 491236

Sat 19 Mar 7.30pm Applause Beechwood Hall, Cooksbridge 01273 477706

Sun 20 Mar 7.30 Applause Hunton Village Hall 01622 820638

Wed 23 Mar 7.30pm Highlights Ingleton Village Hall, Co.Durham 01325 730250 Thu 24 Mar 7.30pm Arts Out West Haile Village Hall 01229 467319

Fri 25 Mar 8pm Arts Out West Ireleth Temperance Hall 01946 841415

Sat 26 Mar 7.30pm Highlights Wark Town Hall & Mech Inst 01434 230250

Sun 27 Mar 7.30pm ArtERY Village Hall, Swanland 01482 634863

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