Jude Gwynaire’s single, “The Piper of Old Detroit,” begins with percussive chiming. It’s as though the wind outside suddenly got rhythm and started moving those outdoor windchimes like it was Buddy Rich. Then about twenty seconds in, the melody takes over. It’s a melody that sounds a tad Middle Eastern. It’s both familiar and exotic, and utterly memorable. This tune plays against a sort of counter melody, a little like the dueling of two separate melodies, fighting to establish sonic dominance. It’s a track that sucks you in, holds you in rapt attention, and won’t let you go.
After about a minute-and-a-half (of this 5:17 track), one begins to hear the original melody echoing the original melody, as though it were being played in a deep valley, where any and all loud sounds are echoed throughout the canyon. It is nearly at the two-minute mark that one begins to clearly hear what sounds like a piper piping. Perhaps this is intended to sound like the colorful, aqua green piper person pictured on the single’s artwork. This is, perhaps, our Piper of Old Detroit.
It’s not clear what Gwynaire meant with this instrumental’s title. If you Google it, one of the funniest listings that appears is for actress ‘Piper’ Laurie, who was born in ‘Detroit.’ Of course, this piece could not possibly be a tribute to that old Hollywood star.
Later, though, this piper’s pipe is replaced by a saxophone. Same melody, different sound. It’s interesting and sneaky how the instrumentation evolves throughout the track. Eventually, the sax and pipe play with and off each other. All along, though, the same percussion part remains. One doesn’t hear a bass part, even though one half expects a wandering, extra flexible bass line to eventually appear. Furthermore, drums could have very well kicked in and given the track extra kick. However, it sounds as though Gwynaire’s intention was not to transform this Old-World sounding melody and rhythm into something noticeably more rock and roll. No, it is modern – recording-wise – but not a modern sounding piece.
Eventually, the track quiets down and fades away. Almost as though this Detroit-ian piper has come, played his/her piece, and then marched off into the distance. It’s as though this piper brought musical magic, took center stage, gathered attention, and then disappeared to parts unknown.
Categorizing this recording is challenging, to say the least. It’s too natural to be called New Age, yet not soul/R&B rhythmic enough to be classified as smooth jazz. Furthermore, it’s not authentic enough to be labeled world music. It draws upon many influences, without sounding exactly like any particular one. One imagines Gwynaire came up with a melody that was pleasing, began to record it and then built a whole track around it. The result is something cinematic and vision-inducing. What is most amazing is how it is repetitive, yet never dull. It doesn’t really change all that much, from beginning to end, but doesn’t ever wear out its welcome, either. How Gwynaire was able to accomplish such a feat is something special. Detroit has never sounded quite this mysterious, ever before.