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QUERCUS - Nightfall

QUERCUS - Nightfall
ECM Productions ECM2522

Sultry, summer sounds from June Tabor with Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren. Nightfall is a truly masterful CD that seeps into your musical soul. The trio perform under the title of Quercus, which is Latin for ‘oak’, a truly emblematic name for the group and one which is undeniably deep rooted within our native British soil, character and identity.

Is there anything left to say about June Tabor’s emotive singing and ability to reach deep within any ballad and like a terrier, rip open the very essence of the music? Probably not! The slow to moderate tempo of the CD remains constant throughout and has been bent, nurtured and cherished to suit the folk/jazz delivery of, essentially material from ‘the tradition’. There are some notable exceptions: the 1940s You Don’t Know What Love Is by Gene De Paul and Don Raye, made popular by Miles Davis and John Coltrane in the 1950s; Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright by Bob Dylan; and Somewhere by Stephen Sondheim. Such is the fantastic musical ability of the collective trio that all the tracks, no matter the source, are wedded together into a quite wonderful whole.

There is great complexity in terms of each arrangement, which on the face of it is simplicity itself. That statement might seem ambiguous but when you consider that musically the CD is solely made up of June Tabor’s exemplary vocals, Iain Ballamy’s evocative and haunting tenor and soprano saxophones and Huw Warren’s plaintive and sympathetic piano, then perhaps you understand what I am trying to convey - that sometimes, less is more. There is nothing overstated on the CD and each performer is an essential component part to the delivery, sound and overall arrangement. Each adds a fantastic, superb dimension, encouraging an extremely creative environment for the other two to improvise and soar to the upper limits of their considerable talents. So fresh is their approach to the music that the word ‘improvise’ is certainly meant as a compliment, for this music is considered, complex, highly skilled and a long way from the looseness of improvisation.

Of the 11 tracks, is there any one that stands out? Well, actually, the answer must be no. So stylistically and carefully chosen is the material and performed to such exacting levels that Nightfall is quite superb in every way. The inclusion of two instrumental pieces - Christchurch by Huw Warren and Emmeline by Iain Ballamy - is a masterful stroke that helps to bind the whole and refresh the musical palate. Nightfall is a sophisticated and pleasing CD which is an absolute joy to listen to.

John Oke Bartlett

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This album was reviewed in Issue 120 of The Living Tradition magazine.