June Tabor, Iain Ballamy, Huw Warren ‘Quercus’ (ECM) 5/5


Back in 2005 the trio of Iain Ballamy, June Tabor and Huw Warren was formed and together they recorded a well received studio album ‘At the wood’s heart’ under Tabor’s name for the prestigious historic folk label Topic. What was little known at the time is that when the trio went on a UK tour in 2006, live recordings were made of the proceedings. Manfred Eicher went back to Munich and mastered these in the studio and the results are now before us in this new album which has taken over six years to surface and, though a live recording in theory, in practice has all the feel of the ECM studio sound and is devoid of any audience participation. Musically the album brings together classic material from the folk repertoire such as poetry and arrangements of traditional songs with a jazz sensibility on piano and saxophone and this fusion works incredibly well, and, in addition, it manages to succeed in respecting both traditions while alienating neither. A good deal of credit is down to the musicians themselves. Pianist Huw Warren has performed in a variety of contexts including new music and avant-garde jazz and his essentially minimalist approach to playing the piano here is totally appropriate and provides the ideal counterfoil to Tabor’s vocal delivery. Saxophonist Iain Ballamy has sufficient space to engage in interplay with the pianist while at the same time playing a supportive role to Tabor. A sumptuous interpretation of Robert Bruns’ ‘Lassie lie near me’ is unquestionably an album highlight and it is beautifully arranged with a fine vocal intro by Tabor and a lingering saxophone solo from Ballamy that ends off a truly memorable piece. Arguably thwe finest ballad on the set is ‘The lads in their hundreds’ which is deeply melodic and a hook of a chorus that Tabor delivers effortlessly while piano and saxohpone have the opportuntiy to stretch out. There are shades of fellow label musician Charles Lloyd in Ballamy’s lyrical sound on the delicious ‘Near but far away’ and he sounds as though he has been listening to Miles Davis circa ‘Sketches of Spain’ on ‘Come away death’ where piano and saxophone combine to perfection. June Tabor has attempted a variety of styles throughout her career and these have ranged from the balladry of Kurt Weill during the Weimar era through to collaborations with the Oysterband that has been righlty praised by the folk cognescenti. This latest departure is a total triumph and dmeonstrates that folk and jazz can be very complimentary bedfellows as Joni Mitchell and Oregon have demonstrated in the past. One of the year’s most revelatory recordings. The trio will be touring in mid-April in England.

Tim Stenhouse