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1651 "Cast A Bell" Beautiful Jo Records BEJOCD-33

1651 was the year John Playford published the first edition of the 'English Dancing Master', a collection of English folk dances and their associated tunes. Violinist Mark Emerson has had a long-standing relationship with the Playford collection, reintroducing the dances into the English ceilidh repertoire as a member of the wonderful Pyewackett in the early 1980s, and causing some degree of outrage in the process by playing Playford tunes with new-fangled rock and jazz influences.

Now in this 350th anniversary year of the first publication, Mark Emerson has started a new chapter in the history of Playford, linking up with diatonic accordion wizard Andy Cutting and Steeleye Span double bassist Tim Harries to create an album of true shining riches from the Playford treasure trove. As Mark Emerson writes in the sleeve notes, 'the tunes are mysterious in origin; there is a darkness in their quirky rhythms and angular lines' - and it is the darkness and mystery which predominates through much of this rich, atmospheric, complex, and sometimes almost introspective album.

For a recording of dance tunes by a band featuring such accomplished dance musicians, there might be some surprise on first listening to 'Cast A Bell' at how little actual straight ahead folk dance music there is on this CD. Surprise will however quickly turn to delight - for whilst there are passages of tunes played as for the dance, many of the melodies are taken at a gentler pace, allowing full reign for the melodies to reveal their hidden potential, developing the themes and harmonies, acting as the springboard for improvisatory passages of great power and grace. The standard of invention and playing is all the more appreciable in the knowledge that these tracks were recorded in one take - ' there has been no overdubbing or editing'.

There is fresh beauty to be found with every hearing of this album, from the stately jazz-tinged deconstruction of the opening 'Kettledrum', through to the delicate, hymn-like, solo piano reading of 'Once I Loved' which concludes the set. This is, quite simply, an absolute gem.

Steve Mansfield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 44 of The Living Tradition magazine.