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ENGLISH ACOUSTIC COLLECTIVE - Ghosts Ruf Records RUFCD09

That obscure (deliberately obscuring?) band name conceals three fine musicians from the indigenous English scene - Chris Wood, Robert Harbron and John Dipper, all hitherto familiar in other contexts and artistic permutations - who have teamed up for 'Ghosts', a CD presenting "a music in which the roles of the composer, arranger and performer are united, where timeless traditional repertoire and contemporary composition rub shoulders." On just under half of the tracks, this means taking traditional sources/old manuscripts as a springboard for intelligent rearrangement and reworking - the thesis being (to quote from the insert note) that "as the musician plays, standing behind them is the ghost of the player they learnt the music from.

Standing behind that ghost is the ghost of the player they learnt from, and so on, back to the beginning of music." The performances and arrangements here quite intentionally tread the avowedly thin line between over-cleverness and slavish, boring re-creation, then, in a spirit of genuinely imaginative exploration of musical possibilities, and the end result is credible, and highly invigorating, music-making. Given the available instrumental palette (violin, concertina/bassoon and either second violin, viola or guitar), it's little wonder that textures tend towards the darkly rarefied, refined chamber-kind, with a decidedly understated ambience. This can sometimes seem a mite under whelming, even dour, on first encounter, but the high quality of the musicianship invariably wins through to produce a uniquely potent redefinition of English music, characterised by an austere beauty that repays careful listening, even (perhaps against expectations) on the more energetic tunes (where I often detect a definite creative cross-influence from Scandinavian musics). Much of the CD is strangely hypnotic - the curious closing Ruskin Mill Waltz (a student composition by John, it turns out) a bit in the manner of a Third Ear Band artefact, I thought. Indeed, a small majority the CD's eleven tracks are non-traditionally-derived new compositions by EAC members - two of these (Bleary Winter and Mari Lwyd, both with words by Hugh Lupton) feature Chris's distinctive singing voice (which also graces a gnomically expressive reinterpretation of The Colour Of Amber, a song originally learnt from Mary Anne Haynes). This is a deceptively low-key yet compelling CD, in fact, which is certainly worth your spending the time getting to know.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 59 of The Living Tradition magazine.