Jazzing up the Galician pipes

NY-based Cristina Pato has just released her first album with a US jazz label

Piping up: Cristina Pato on stage at the Jazz Standard club in New York.
Piping up: Cristina Pato on stage at the Jazz Standard club in New York.XAN PADRÓN

Cristina Pato says wherever she goes, her gaita -- her Galician bagpipes -- goes with her. So when she visited New York for the first time at the end of the 1990s, the pipes were in tow.

The Spanish musician was already mulling the idea of moving to the city, but the release of her first album in 1999 and the "years of the gaita boom in Spain" put her plans on hold.

In the end it was her studies for a doctorate in the piano, her other instrument, that brought the now 32-year-old to the United States definitively.

Around seven years later, Pato, dressed in a black low-cut top and trousers, is on stage at the historic Jazz Standard club in the Big Apple, thanking the audience for "being brave enough to come to listen to a bagpipe concert on a Tuesday night in New York."

She talks about the funny feeling of finding "one's voice in a place that isn't one's own" -- an experience to which she has given expression in Migrations, her first album to be released in the United States by independent label Sunnyside Records, one of the most prestigious in the industry.

"It is my most personal work, which collects my experience in this city and the fascinating world I have found here with musicians from Persia and India, from many places," Pato explains the day after her concert. "All origins and cultures are in some way united."

I take this roots instrument and try to take it out of its comfort zone"

The Ourense-born piper has collaborated with Latin jazz stars such as Cuba's Paquito D'Rivera, debuted with Yo-Yo Ma in Carnegie Hall in 2006 and forms part of the renowned cellist's Silk Road Ensemble, whose tours often keep her far from her West Village apartment. The BBC has dubbed her the "diva of the Galician bagpipes" while The New York Times review of Migrations spoke of her original approach to traditional forms -- calling it "an album suffused with awareness of tradition but breezy about its debts" -- and the dynamism of her improvisations.

"I don't think there is a stigma attached to this instrument, but the bagpipes are related to different things, for example to military tradition in Scotland," she says.

"In many countries, their origins are pastoral and what I try to do is search for freedom of expression with the bagpipes; I take this roots instrument and try to take it out of its comfort zone."

As well as the gaita, Pato plays the piano, flute and tambourine, and also sings both on the album and on stage. The presentation of her new work at the New York club was backed by the Barcelona Jazz Festival and coincided with the annual Global, Performing Arts Marketplace and Conference, which brings together music industry programmers and professionals, many of whom attended the gig.

After the first session, many people came up to congratulate her, including a young man from Wisconsin, Jay Loomis, who had an offer to make her: "I make Native American flutes and I have one for you."

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