Quercus ‘Nightfall’ (ECM) 4/5

Trio Quercus typify the eclectic approach of the ECM label. Pairing an established and revered folk singer in June Tabor with pianist Huw Warren and saxophonist Iain Ballamy (ex Loose Tubes) was always going to be an intriguing coming together of sounds and this builds upon the excellent and critically acclaimed eponymous debut on ECM from 2013. The new recording is a demonstration in musical restraint and understatement. Although some might question whether that simply means a lack of imagination and be put off by the pastoral hues of the album that are certainly present within, this is happily not the case here. An eclectic selection of songs takes in English and Scottish folk traditions, revisits the great American songbook and adds a couple of interesting originals by the two instrumentalists. Moreover, at just over sixty-five minutes, the trio clearly still have plenty to say and express themselves collectively in an understated manner. Ballamy and Warren offer an empathetic and ever supportive role as exemplified on, ‘The Manchester angel’. A stripped down take on Dylan’s, ‘Don’t think twice’, works a treat and focuses attention on Tabor’s vocal prowess. Timeless material in, ‘Somewhere’ by Bernstein and Sondheim and the standard, ‘You don’t know what love is’, are the nearest this album gets to a more conventional jazz treatment. An interesting Ballamy original in, ‘Emmeline’, allows piano and saxophone to combine in collective harmony. Folk and jazz complement one another on the playful rendition of, ‘The Cuckoo’, while fittingly, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ends the album on a pared down and less optimistic tone than one might normally expect.

Folk fans who might balk at the prospect of jazz intervening, are most likely to be enthralled by this recording. The jazz component is never intrusive, but rather a downplayed and more supportive part of the mix.

Tim Stenhouse