The folk singer June Tabor has been a marvel of English music since the 1960s, and her long-term pianist Huw Warren and saxophonist Iain Ballamy only enhance her clarity, stillness and deep but fragile sound. The three previously combined on the 2005 album At the Wood’s Heart, and this broodingly beautiful music was recorded on their tour as Quercus the following year, though the sound is so clean it could be a studio set. An arrangement of George Butterworth’s first world war setting of AE Housman’s poem The Lads In Their Hundreds turns on the contrast between jaunty piano and sax lines and the war-presaging lyric; Shakespeare’s Come Away Death is a slow chant for Tabor and Ballamy’s low-pitched tenor sax in unison; and Ballamy’s own jazzier Near But Far Away has a Charles Lloyd-like delicacy at the other end of the register. A tango on Who Wants the Evening Rose, and the jazz standard This is Always represent occasional accelerations of tempo, and American monk Gregory Norbet’s haunting lyric All I Ask of You (which Ballamy evocatively used in memory of a departed loved one on his 1989 album Balloon Man) closes the set. Nobody plays a note too many or expresses a false emotion. It’s a unique tribute to the power of song.
Quercus: Quercus – review
Quercus consists of folk singer June Tabor, saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren. An unlikely trio, you might think, but the combination proves quite magical. Together they create a subtle new idiom in which lyrics by Shakespeare, Burns and Housman, a 1940s song by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, English folk songs and a melody by John Dowland can emerge in a new and delicate light. Recorded live (before a remarkably restrained audience, in which nobody coughs), this is one of the most surprising and beautiful pieces of work I have heard in a long time
June Tabor, Iain Ballamy, Huw Warren: Quercus
Cormac Larkin – Irish Times * * * * *
There won’t be many records released this year that draw from as deep a well as Quercus . Folk songs survive for generations because their meanings are profound and chime perfectly with their melodies. And few singers can reveal those meanings as magically as English folk legend June Tabor. The sincerity of her delivery is borne of a deep respect for words. She makes old songs live again and new songs sound like they’ve been around for years.
The piano is still an unusual instrument in folk music, but Tabor’s dark tones find the perfect foil in the the delicate precision of Welsh pianist Huw Warren’s accompaniments. The two have enjoyed a fruitful relationship for more than two decades.
Joining them on this live recording, captured in crystalline silence on a UK tour in March 2006, is saxophonist Iain Ballamy, whose restlessness has taken him from the anarchy of the seminal Loose Tubes collective to the avant-garde experiments of his Food duo with drummer Thomas Strønen. For Quercus, he strips back his harmonic pallet, responding to Tabor’s singing with austerely elegiac solos that respect the material even as they stretch it out into new territory.