June Tabor/Iain Ballamy/Huw Warren | Quercus | ECM 2276



The trio Quercus delivers profound and moving interpretations of traditional and non-traditional song on its debut album, approaching the heart of the material by unorthodox routes. In this unique group, the dark voice of the great English folksinger June Tabor is framed and supported by the quietly adventurous arrangements and subtle improvisations of Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren. Warren has worked with Tabor for 25 years already and made important contributions to her albums. “His piano”, The Guardian has observed, “has teased out the deeper autumnal colours in Tabor’s range.” The nature of their association in Quercus is different, however. This is very much a collaborative band. Together and from different vantage points singer, saxophonist and pianist explore the emotional core of the songs. Most importantly, the songs and the words are respected as instrumental skills and melodic imaginations are harnessed to illuminate them.

The first part of “Come Away Death”, for instance, based upon Shakespeare’s text from Twelfth Night, finds Ballamy’s tenor sax chanting with the vocal line. “One of the things I’m trying to do in Quercus”, Ballamy says, “is to make one sound with June’s voice. It’s a matter of tone and precise control of volume. When you have music in tune and deeply blended at the source like that it can be very powerful in the moment. As a goal, that’s much more interesting to me than the execution of a clever solo.” The second half of the piece is Ballamy’s instrumental setting of the text, saxophone and piano dancing to an iambic beat.


In common with most of Tabor’s work, material selected does not shy from life’s big topics: death, war and betrayal are themes here, but also love, fidelity and reunion. The album opens tenderly with Robert Burns’ “Lassie Lie Near Me”, but before long the transitory nature of happiness is captured in A.E. Housman’s World War I poem “The Lads In Their Hundreds” set to George Butterworth’s music in an arrangement by Ballamy. Warren’s solo piece “Teares”, channeling Dowland, is an appropriate response…

The chamber music precision of Quercus’ performance belies the fact that it was recorded live at the end of a British tour in 2006, at the Anvil in Basingstoke. (As Ballamy recalls, “the piano was excellent, the acoustics in the hall were good, and nobody coughed.”) The tapes were mixed in Oslo in 2012 by Manfred Eicher and Jan Erik Kongshaug, together with Ballamy and Warren.