According to the great Danny Baker: “Any pure music is inferior to mongrel music”. The album reviewed here can be seen as prima facie evidence that the wordsmith/broadcaster is right. I have to confess that when the request to opine on this album was made my heart sank, I know nothing about English folk music. I have been exposed to very little of it, and the image conjured up for the most part is somewhat akin to that created by the mention of Morris dancing. In short, expectations were neutral at best, and I was bracing myself mentally for a review that apologised for my lack of enthusiasm.
However… I am happy to report that once I started listening to it all fear was quashed and expectations exceeded. Quercus is an album that succeeds in spite of its sober musical musings. The album is a lyrical journey, it offers a very intimate sound which relies on a combination of factors. None of its contributors can lay claim to a particular prominence, the two better known members of the trio are June Tabor and Iain Ballamy (vocals and saxophone respectively) who are supported by Huw Warren; in my view the star of the album. The material is mostly made from songs but there is a single instrumental piece.
The recording quality has a typical ECM sound, impressive and clean if not entirely natural. Ms Tabor’s voice has an unforced essence, combining emotion and flow without any discernible exclamation, it is honest and unaffected. Iain Ballamy’s sax reminds me of John Surman, those who are frightened by modern reed players will find his sound cosseting and gentle. Pinning together the unusual combination of folk and instrumental styles which can loosely be described as jazz is Huw Warren’s excellent ivory tinkling. Fans of the Nordic jazz revolution of the past few years (Tord Gustavsen etc) will no doubt be drawn to the melodious melancholy which permeates through every piece.
This is serious album, a cerebral expression of control and a calculated effort to maintain a degree of cool not usually encountered in folk. But that is what gives it an appeal outside of folk circles, it’s a fascinating amalgam of styles the like of which one rarely encounters. Those who dare to experiment will discover some wonderful music on here, it’s highly recommended for the musically curious amongst us. A relaxed and absorbing experience for those not frightened by a experimental/cerebral presentation which is always melodious but occasionally challenging.
Best Album Track: Who Wants Evening Rose
Out of kilter fact: June Tabor has recorded a version of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit
Youtube track from the album