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June Tabor "A Quiet Eye" - Topic TSCD510

In autumn last year June Tabor did a mini tour with the Creative Jazz Orchestra, where she continued to develop the relationship between her style of singing and the world of jazz - a relationship that has been a constant, albeit not very obvious, part of her performances for some time. Understated, yes, but steadily nurtured, and now, on 'A Quiet Eye', it is brought to fruition. June has garnered to herself some extremely talented and competent musicians - a long-standing partnership with Huw Warren and Mark Emerson, braced by the input from regulars Mark Lockheart and Dudley Phllips, enhanced by the superb musicianship of the Creative Jazz Orchestra, and the whole produced by John Ravenhall. Definitely a dream team, but does it work? Well, yes, it's an extremely fine album with a satisfying mix of genres and styles, combined with a remarkable spread of material - two Thompson songs, Caddick, MacColl, traditional, and a couple of surprises.

The opening song is essentially traditional, 'The Gardener' with Huw Warren's piano leading, before allowing the sax to gradually introduce the brass section, which then builds and develops, but without overpowering the singing. It's Tabor at the very centre of proceedings with the experienced and mature jazzers of the CJO blending to the voice and succeeding brilliantly. Never over dramatic or dominant, they simply give just the right mix and a very satisfying balance, which pervades the entire recording.

There is the celebratory 'A Place Called England', another well-crafted song from Maggie Holland, where the brass section gives a terrifically bright and powerful lift. On the Thompson classic, 'Pharaoh', a strident fanfare introduces the piece, followed by driving, percussive brass which underpins and subtly builds the tension, punctuating the potent lyrics, leading to the final chorus which ends in a climactic, majestic, blast of brass - superb!

In contrast, there is a moving version of the traditional, 'Must I Be Bound', pure Tabor, sensitively accompanied by Emerson and Warren; a treatment of 'I Will Put My Ship In Order', with a gentle jazz influence; and the simply astounding 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'. Who would have thought there could be room for another version of this Ewan MacColl classic? Here it is sung unaccompanied, with little ornamentation, spare and subtle, but charged with such power and emotion - an absolute gem!

The other material includes Bill Caddick's 'The Writing of Tipperary', the concluding piece on his 'Sunny Memories' suite of 1977, which chronicles the twilight of the Edwardian era; another Thompson song 'Waltzing's For Dreamers', prefaced with an instrumental piece by Mark Emerson; and a traditional set comprising 'The Water Is Wide' and 'Jeannie And Jamie'.

'A Quiet Eye' is still very much Tabor territory, but this album has something else - the feel of the recording shows an underlying change, with June's singing being somehow more mellow and relaxed. The CD is excellent from start to finish, from concept to execution, and is a fine testament to her collaboration with the CJO. Demonstrating, yet again, this lady's astounding voice, prodigious talent, and unerring instinct for quality.

Mel Howley

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This album was reviewed in Issue 35 of The Living Tradition magazine.