No teenagers will be listening to this on a Friday night to get them psyched up for a night of clubbing. But those who enjoy jazz-folk subtlety will have a field day here.
Time: 11 tracks / 66 Minutes
Several years on, this jazz-folk trio has done it again, creating another serene and sombre set of songs from traditional tunes to contemporary classics.
Circling around the eminent, low, smoky vocal of June Tabor – who has long outgrown her folky roots to become an icon of downbeat interpretation – are her long-time pianist/ musical director Huw Warren and saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
Like their excellent début, this is a live recording with the applause edited out; both start with a Robert Burns lyric; both feature a contemporary cover (here it’s Dylan’s acerbic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” strangely, but effectively, based on gospel piano) and both feature a jazz standard: this one closes with “Somewhere” from West Side Story – and what a fine lingering flavour it leaves it the ear.
For sure, no teenagers anywhere will be listening to this on a Friday evening to get them psyched up for a night of clubbing. But those who enjoy subtlety will have a field day here. At times, the sound is mesmerising.
Tabor knows how to bring the pathos out of any song – including the opener, a rather flat-feeling account of “Auld Lang Syne.” For me, this disc really starts after this, with Tabor’s vocal and decades of folk experience bringing out the emotion in “Once I Loved You Dear,” deeply enhanced by Ballamy’s fluid tenor sax.
On “You Don’t Know What Love Is” you can imagine her as the femme fatale in a 1940s/50s film noir, where they stop the drama to let a sultry, bluesy number take effect from a stage, all low-lit and clouded with smoke.
The instrumentation is sublime. Not only can that smooth, warm sax mourn the losses of a soldier in Manchester or a boatload off Ireland (so cheery, those English traditional songs), but on Warren’s instrumental “Christchurch” (he and Warren have one each) Ballamy lightens the mood to compensate, his lyrical soprano sax setting a pastoral mood. At any point when the vocals take a break, these two take off in jazz mode.
This truly is a trio of equals. While Tabor has the focus, Ballamy becomes her partner in melody and Warren skits around their lines like a dancer. Their playing is utterly intuitive. I doubt that anyone has ever married folk and jazz to more powerful effect than this trio.