‘Nightfall’ – Quercus

Quercus_Nightfall

THE ORIGINAL Quercus album of 2013 – a live recording of a concert from several years earlier – was one of those musically defining moments where folk and jazz were both eloquently and movingly brought together. So this second release from vocalist June Tabor, saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren should surely delight the many who first rose to applaud the emergence of these already respected musicians as a trio. 

Initially, Nightfall does appear to be the anticipated, natural progression – why wouldn’t it? But as you allow yourself to take them to your heart, these eleven new expressions of songs (of traditional folk origin and from the likes of Bob Dylan and Stephen Sondheim / Leonard Bernstein) begin to surrender their emotional array of treasures; so much so that perhaps it even surpasses the attraction of that still much-played debut. Recorded in rural Somerset, this studio account loses nothing of Quercus’ perfect synergy as they again combine to present music from different sources with customary poise and attention to detail.

Ballamy’s instantly distinctive tenor sound, one of the most oratory in contemporary jazz (and still summoning the magic of his The Little Radio album with Stian Carstensen) is flawlessly matched to the rich, resonant voice of June Tabor, who has remained such a great ambassador of English folk music. And though Huw Warren is also known for his pianistic exuberance – as witnesses to the fervour of his Brazilian- or African-flavoured jazz performances will concur – here his ruminative and precise focus unwaveringly articulates Tabor’s poetic storytelling, where predominant themes of longing, love and loss are balanced with glimpses of light.

On Berrow Sands‘ warning of the perils of the Bristol Channel are elucidated by Tabor’s siren-like lament (reminiscent of her Ashore album), the haunting repetition of ‘Away, keep away, the gulls do cry…’ affirmed by Warren’s ominous, perpetual currents and darkly-plumbed depths. Reinterpreted strains of Auld Lang Syne paint Robert Burns’ familiar words with subdued melancholy; and Iain Ballamy’s subtle control which, throughout this session, can enter and recede almost imperceptibly, is so intelligently shaped. His more obvious lyricism can be heard intertwining with Tabor’s heartfelt four-line stanzas in 19th Century folk tale The Irish Girl and the evocative, sunset hues of The Shepherd and His Dog, whilst Emmeline – Ballamy’s own instrumental, shared with Warren – tumbles with sweet, open innocence.

An especially bluesy rendition of You Don’t Know What Love Is aches to June Tabor’s rubato enunciation, inviting breathy improvisations from Ballamy; the singer’s tormented narrative in traditional folk song The Manchester Angel is particularly compelling; and Huw Warren’s piano-and-soprano sax instrumental Christchurch possesses a wistful elegance. In that vein, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright is almost unrecognisable in a superbly resigned reinvention of Bob Dylan’s sparse guitar-and-vocal original, Tabor’s subtle, conversational inflections bringing the lyric to life over Huw Warren’s deliciously chromatic gospel accompaniment. Both pianist and saxophonist charmingly ornament the blithe poetry of Dorset gypsy song The Cuckoo; and Sondheim/Bernstein favourite Somewhere, maybe more than ever, has the power to echo our ever-present feelings of despair and hope, Iain Ballamy’s luscious tenor spirit suggesting a pathway to the latter.

This is a recording which, to quote Sondheim, needs ‘a time, a place’. Ascend a tor or a ‘moel’ with Nightfall in your ears – and for a mountain-top experience like no other, it’s up there… somewhere.

Released on 28 April 2017 and available from ECM, Amazon, iTunes, record stores, etc.

 

June Tabor voice
Iain Ballamy tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Huw Warren piano

topicrecords.co.uk/junetabor
ballamy.com
huwwarren.com

ECM Records – 574 3078 (ECM 2522) (2017)

‘Fist Full of Notes’ – Indigo Kid II

IndigoKidII

FOR GUITARIST Dan Messore, the different yet similarly broad landscapes of his two spiritual homes – Pembrokeshire, Wales and Santa Teresa, Costa Rica – feature prominently in his compositions for this second Indigo Kid release, Fist Full of Notes.

Messore’s well-received debut Indigo Kid album, in 2012, was encouraged and led by renowned saxophonist Iain Ballamy (who the guitarist studied under in Wales) – and whilst Ballamy returns for a couple of numbers here, he introduces creative tenorist Trish Clowes to take up the lead sax role. From the original quartet line-up, bassist Tim Harries remains, but drummer Martin France makes his first appearance with the ‘Kid.

Strikingly progressive in feel, Dan Messore has developed this band’s musical atmospheres of jazz, folk and country to judiciously include electronics/effects which complement and sustain the original, open, acoustic sound; and the transformation can become cinematic (maybe that’s the clue to the curious ‘fist full of notes/dollars’ title idea), often with satisfying prog rock grandeur.

The key to the success of the project lies in the constantly shifting textures which Messore and his team employ; here is a straightforward quartet/quintet line-up, yet the clever written and improvisational stratification – organically building, evolving and fading – defines the enticingly alternative approach. So, there are familiar jazz territory run-outs, such as Trish Clowes’ sunny pairing with Messore in lightly shuffling All Hands to Dance and Skylark, recalling the saxophonist’s work with guitarist Chris Montague (including the later inclusion of layered effects); but then the intense, rock-heavy aura of From Nowhere to Our Place excitingly summons the spirit of Robert Fripp and King Crimson.

The mellower side of Clowes’ very distinctive tone announces folksy Snow on the Presellis, its easy-going, guitar-rich demeanour perhaps leaning closer to Central America than mountainous South West Wales; and Mr Randall creates a fascinating blend of experimental jazz fusion and early prog as Harries’ wah-wahed electric bass combines with France’s fabulously intricate drumming over disquieting electronics. Dan Messore’s style has been likened to that of guitar legend Richard Thompson (though you could easily put John Etheridge, John Abercrombie and Bill Frisell into the mix, too). That self-accompanied folk style comes out in one of two pieces dedicated to his late father – the Soft Machine-imbued expanse of Carpet Boys; and The Healing Process reveals the familiar, deep, mellifluous signature of Iain Ballamy.

Waiting for Paula is quietly majestic, the echoic searchings of Clowes and Messore contrasting well with sparky rhythms delivered by Martin France – a perfect example of the cohesion within this ensemble; and interlude Quiet Waters does indeed ripple calmly to picked guitar and confident melodies, followed by the perky country-rock of The Bay. To close, Iain Ballamy again swells the ranks in Sketches in the Fabric, Tim Harries’ incisive electric bass driving its infectious jazz/rock energy.

It’s great to hear a fresh approach to contemporary jazz, and Dan Messore’s compositional and improvisational prowess flourishes amidst the distinguished musical company he keeps.

Released on 13 July 2015, Fist Full of Notes is available at Babel Label.

 

Dan Messore electric guitar, composition
Trish Clowes tenor sax
Iain Ballamy tenor sax (tracks 6 & 10)
Tim Harries electric bass
Martin France drums

danmessore.com

Babel Label – BDV14138 (2015)