Quercus: Nightfall (ECM 2522)



June Tabor voice
Iain Ballamy tenor and soprano saxophones
Huw Warren piano
Recorded December 2015 at Cooper Hall, Frome
Engineer: Mike Mower
Mixed at The Soundhouse Studios, London
Engineer: Gerry O’Riordan
Produced by Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren
Release date: April 28, 2017

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
–Edward Thomas

Four years after a 2013 debut on ECM, the trio known as Quercus deepen their mission in this follow-up gospel. Unlike singers whose tone may be described as silken, sultry, or smoky, June Tabor treats her voice as would a metallurgist an alloy. Together with saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren, she yields new admixtures at every turn, each more elemental than the last.

High crests among the program’s traditional selections include two songs collected by Somerset folklorist Ruth L. Tongue (1898-1981). “On Berrow Sands” and “The Shepherd And His Dog” showcase Warren’s exquisite pianism, the former with such oceanic clarity that one can almost smell the ghosts of dead sailors taking flight among the seagulls as Tabor recreates their sacrifices. In “Once I Loved You Dear (The Irish Girl),” she mines the ore of words, handing it to us without polishing away the dirt of its forgotten slumber. As stolen love takes flight into darker realities, Tabor gouges out superficial wounds and fills them with the bronze of self-reflection.

All of these are branches to the roots of “Auld Lang Syne,” which opens the album in a cradling of words. Tabor steps out of time, pulling aside the curtain of night just a sliver to let the past bleed through. Ballamy illustrates that transition beautifully, adding deeper evocations of trauma through his tenor in “The Manchester Angel” and maternal love in “The Cuckoo.” He also contributes his own composition, “Emmeline,” in a circling duet with Warren, echoing the form taken in Warren’s own “Christchurch.” Both fit naturally into their surroundings, as does the jazz standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” an evergreen dipped in silver. And whether turning West Side Story’s anthemic “Somewhere” into something mysterious or making Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” uniquely her own, Tabor communicates so vividly as to render every stalk of wheat, every stone and animal bone in the fields beyond. Such music, then, is never about inclusion but extension of a tradition whose torch glows only in the human heart. An intimate and special experience that could have been created by no other.

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