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IAN BLAKE: Reviews

SANS

Live CD

A subtle, at times gently unsettling album in which ancient laments from around the Baltic are fused with themes from England, Scotland and Armenia. Exquisite.

The Pocket Score Company

Sin and Salvation All Saints, Ainslie, ACT. Sunday, May 20, 2012

It’s hard to beat an afternoon with Palestrina, Monteverdi, Lassus and the like, especially when the music is performed by Canberra’s smallest and most technically polished male vocal ensemble, The Pocket Score Company. With each performance the blend of voices, with David Mackay conducting is developing into a confident sound which is at once resonant and clean. Palestrina’s Missa Aeterna Christi Munera formed the heart of the concert and with the opening Kyrie I was reminded of the description of Anne Boleyn walking up the aisle of Westminster abbey on a ‘cloth of heaven blue’ for her coronation. If you could replicate heaven blue silk in music, it would sound like The Pocket Score Company singing Palestrina.


With a blend of sacred and secular songs, the program offered a satisfying variety of material. Contrasting with the heavenly Palestrina,  the more earthly offerings from Adrian Willaert: Un Giorno Mi Prego, Lassus: Baur, was tregst im Sacke?, and Jannequin’s Martin menoit son porceau were energetic evocations of the lusty life of the folk in the 15th and 16th centuries. Innuendo and vocal special effects succeeded in conveying the wicked sense of fun within the lyrics.


One of the highlights was the opening song in the second half of the concert, Hec Dies, by an anonymous composer and performed by David Yardley (countertenor) and Ian Blake (bass), singing across the audience. The early music stereophonic effect was deliciously trippy. Monteverdi’s Chi’o ami la mia vita was less tidy than the other numbers, but a compensating treat was David Yardley’s setting of the carol, Wilkin’s Return. The lyrics urge Christ to ‘save merry England and speed it well’, but with such edgy urgency it was easy to imagine a barracks full of (musical) testosterone fuelled soldiers ready to smite off a few heads for the glory of God and country. Juan del Encina’s lovely Romerico came as balm after the robust carol and Palestrina’s Agnus Dei à4 and à5, separated by a beautifully spacious plainchant version, ended the concert peacefully. There was a lovely moment when baritone Daniel Sanderson and tenor Paul Eldon’s voices blended in the five part version perfectly to illustrate exactly why there had to be another voice in the arrangement. But best of all, David Mackay’s very young daughter provided a well timed, perfectly pitched musical comment in between the last two items, proving that the younger generation finds as much joy in early music as the older patrons.

Jennifer Gall - The Canberra Times

(May 23, 2012)
Homecoming
St. Pauls Manuka ACT, June 5 2011

The elements conspired to augment Sunday's concert with golden dusk shining through the windows as The Pocket Score Company presented songs about love, death and ecstasy. This all-male vocal ensemble is consolidating a sound that is distinctively warm and witty. Its audience has built impressively since the group began singing together five years ago. A bold willingness to explore challenging repertoire from the French, German, Spanish and Italian traditions as well as more accessible English material ensures that the ear is continually delighted and refreshed.

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Tomas Luis de Victoria's death this year, the opening song was a robust version of Taedet Animam Meam followed by madrigals by Marenzio and Morley, all eclipsed by the performance of the powerful setting of Bruce Dawe's poem Homecoming by Philip Griffin. Griffin's score magnifies the sharp edge to Dawe's words while maintaining the poignancy of these young, modern soldiers brought home, 'too late, too early' in winged hearses, the howling jet engines representing contemporary keening. Paul Eldon's fluid tenor voice worked well here and David Mackay's voice delivered the last line gracefully and hauntingly. Three short madrigals on the subject of weeping and the cure for this condition in the form of May merriment were crowned by David Yardley's cleverly animated setting of the medieval carol Wep no more for me swet hart. Yardley took the lead and it was good to hear him singing confidently without any hint of the occasional tendency to strain heard earlier. His skill in weaving the parts in his composition built the suspense till the final enigmatic lines of the incomplete text. Le Chant des Oyseaulx by Clement Janequin was a joyful cacophony of bird calls and hugely entertaining vocal virtuosity.

After interval, the audience was herded back to their seats by bass Ian Blake entering while singing of the delights of Paris: On Parole - A Paris - Frese nouvele. I liked the movement as each singer entered with their part, bringing the church to life by turning the space into a meeting place. Opening with an engaging bass solo from Blake above the vocal accompaniment, Der May mit lieber zal by Oswald von Wolkenstein and Jehan Vaillant once again provided ample opportunity for the singers to display their vocal dexterity in portraying a whole array of birdsong.

Three short, sweet madrigals set the stage for one of the highlights, Tom Lehrer's Poisoning Pigeons. I couldn't help thinking of my mandarin's buds eaten by Canberra's furry maurauders and wishing that there was an added line about poisoning possums. Pilkington's Rest Sweet Nymphs calmed things beautifully, melting into the wonderful Ce Moys de May. The exquisite finale was Tota Pulchra Es. Not another note was needed to complete the afternoon.
Jennifer Gall - The Canberra Times (Jun 6, 2011)
Nachtmusik: A Concert of German Music from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

All Saints, Ainslie ACT, Sunday July 5th, 2009.

It was a great pleasure to attend a concert in which so much thought had been given to every detail of the performance. All Saints was the perfect venue for the all-male Pocket Score Company in terms of the intimate size of the Church and also because of the beauty of the interior. The way in which afternoon light through the stained glass windows continually shifted and illuminated the space complemented the delivery of the music. Each member of the ensemble spoke at different points to describe the next bracket of songs with knowledgeable comments and amusing asides, introducing the audience to the composers and the singers themselves as fellow human beings rather than talented aliens. The programme sheets were elegant and simply laid out with translations for each item. My one regret was that this interesting and carefully constructed programme had just a single performance. A season of several nights would allow audiences a second listening and help the ensemble develop further the rapport between each other, with the music and with the audience to reach a new level of excellence. These songs are rarely, if ever, performed in Australia and patrons would welcome the chance to hear them again.
Heinrich Isaac’s beloved Innsbruck, Ich Muss Dich Lassen opened the concert and the ensemble gave an original, unsentimental version, conveying the contemplative mood of the piece with refreshing spaciousness conveyed through their phrasing. Each vocal part moved in a seamless conversational exchange.
Adam Gumpelzhaimer wrote songs that were as challenging to sing as his name is to pronounce. So Fahr Ich Hin Zu Jesu Christ and Mit Fried Und Freud Fahr Ich Dahin were two tantalizingly short pieces from this neglected composer. The following bracket of songs by Senfl and von Wolkenstein were cleverly grouped around the mysterious Der Mai by Neidhart von Reuenthal, featuring Ian Blake’s agile bass. Some lovely moments followed in Entlaubet Ist Der Walde in the interweaving parts between tenors David Mackay and George Brenan and counter-tenor David Yardley. A conflation of three versions of In Dulci Jubilo concluded the first half of the concert; the first by Praetorius – clean and joyous, the second by Buxtehude – florid and outrageous and finally Bach – robust and majestic.
In the second half I enjoyed the low tenor entry and the smooth exchange between the voices in Der Winter Kalt by Eccard. The most fun was certainly had by audience and singers in Es Gieng Guot Tröscher Über Land, a song in which a maid and a thresher “indulge in a bout of mutual metaphorical activity” and Orlande de Lassus’ wild ditty about a partying farmer. However, the outstanding performance of the afternoon was Tota Pulchra Es, by Heinrich Isaac, a hypnotic, darkly sonorous, densely arranged piece where the four male voices blended perfectly as the one instrument. David Yardley’s counter tenor was at its best here, touching the grave harmonies with brightness and accentuating the power of the silences. This setting of selections from The Song of Solomon was absolutely unforgettable.
Jennifer Gall - The Canberra Times

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Spirit of Place

The artwork for 'Spirit of Place' is by Simon von Wolkenstein, and yes, folks, he is descended from the composer Oswald von Wolkenstein (1377-1445)Following our policy of bringing you interesting, diverse and unusual music from around the world and in many musical spheres, this album fits neatly into our "no convenient genre or category" pigeon-hole. For it's a highly eclectic melange of various styles, from the solo whistle tune that opens, through drifting soundscapes and samples, passing jazz moods, a little bit of funk even, a touch of the mediaeval about it, a touch of the symphonic (in feel at least, there is no orchestra.) That said, Blake plays so many instruments himself, it could as well be a small orchestra. Clarinet, saxes, whistles, melodica, fujara, flute, tenor guitar, dulcimer, lyre and keyboards, bass and percussion are all used by Ian on the album. As Nick Beale said in a 1996 review of this album in fRoots this is 'multi-faceted and highly inventive music...' . It's hard to pin down with labels, but the consistent threads that run through it are the variety of musical ideas on offer, and the creativity with which those are manipulated. It's also a tribute to this CD that it's not really like anyone else that I can think of musically. The moment you think "ah that's a bit like Terry Riley ...." it's off into new territory again. The title is descriptive of the inspiration behind the tracks, each being given their musical identity by Ian's interpretation of the genius loci. The places visited are many and different, and their musics follow suit. If your tastes run to musical journeys through a variety of different spaces, (mostly of the melodic and instrumental type, in moderately laid back mood), I recommend you try this CD: I doubt if you'll be disappointed.

Malcolm Fielding - indie-cds.com

Luminous

The cover art for 'Luminous' is based on a painting by Helen Rivero, and designed by Greer Versteeg Helen Rivero is a singer and composer born in Sydney, Australia, to Spanish immigrants who has focused her work on jazz, cabaret and folk songs from around the world. Ian Blake is a British transplant multi-instrumentalist who has worked with English country dance group Pyewackett, Eric Bogle, and British world music chameleon Andrew Cronshaw. For this stunningly recorded collection, these two artists bring all those influences and styles to a mix of lullabies from around the world, including pieces in Zulu, Yiddish, French, Russian, Creole, Italian, Micmac and many more (17 pieces in all).

Rivero is a singer who is nothing if not unique. She uses her voice as a supple musical instrument, effortlessly darting from the lyric to vocalese and sound effects, painting a striking, often haunting, series of minipaintings from each of the cultures represented here. Blake is an instrumental master, providing a broad range of sensitively played arrangements for these pieces with an arsenal of woodwinds, keyboards and strings. Peter Kennard (percussion) and Julian Thompson (cello) fill out the ensemble.

The excellent production is pure and clean, very reminiscent of Blake's production work on Andrew Cronshaw's award winning release Ochre from last year. It is a joy just to listen to the sound of this recording, with each vocal and instrument cleanly presented with a "whole" sound ... open and clear.

The material seems to be a mixture of traditional and composed music from, literally, all over the world. It's both a tribute to the artistry of the duo that the material works together and that each piece stands up independently of the whole. I wish there was more background about the material provided. In the end, though, this is music that stands on its own. I don't want to mistakenly make it seem like this is any kind of folkloric work, but if you're open to a cool, jazzy take on tradition from true musical masters, this is a beautiful recording well worth the effort to find.
Mark D Moss - SingOut!
A selection of lullabies and night music from around the world could be a big yawn, but this selection is packed with interesting arrangements, junkyard percussion and found sounds, all linked by Rivero's expressive vocals and Blake's multi-instrumental ability. If anything, it's almost too eclectic in one dose, but it is equally fascinating and charming.
fROOTS
'They've treated the material in a way that is totally refreshing. The music is confident, engaging and has a wonderful element of surprise.
It's a fine new CD from these two talented musicians.'
Paul Petran - ABC Radio National's Music Deli

The centrepiece of this album is Helen Rivero's voice. Her vocal control is amazing and, coupled with a rich tone and strong interpretative power, it makes Luminous compelling listening. Ian Blake complements her voice with an instrumental soundscape filled with equally complex textures and delicate solos. Like most original work, Luminous is a challenge to describe but very easy to listen to. The CD is a collection of 17 lullabies from around the world, and Rivero and Blake have done extensive research with songs sung in Zulu, Italian, Welsh, Yiddish, Greek and Icelandic to name a few. But this description only tells half the story. Each lullaby is given a quirky, original arrangement using word play, vocal acrobatics, woodwinds, percussion, keyboard and strings to create songs that sometimes shimmer as in dreams or quiver on the threshold of excitement. Much of Luminous is exceptionally enjoyable and the duo must be great to see live in concert. This is music with a triple purpose. First, it's a celebration of this Australian duo's musical friendship. Second, it draws the listener to the wealth of music from around the world. Finally, it forces you to look outside your preconceived notions of music genres - not a bad thing for musicians and listeners alike. Luminous allows us considerable breathing space to dream for a bright and peaceful future.

Jaslyn Hall - limelight

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Cantara

The cover of Jenny Gall's 'Cantara' features the painting 'A Rolling Sea' by Janet Goodchild-Cuffley. Text at the base of the picture says: 'after this the Syren made the King sit upon her Fishy Tail and both sailed away in a Rolling Sea with all imaginable Satisfaction' Jenny Gall, in collaboration with musician and sound artist Ian Blake, has here produced a recording of Australian women's folk music that is much more than a fine and inspiring aesthetic experience. This CD of nine songs and two instrumental tracks is also intellectually and artistically challenging, surprising, and at times slightly unsettling. It is strongly unified by its consistent reference to the essential paradox and ambiguity of life. That this is an essence which is at once contemporary and also generations deep, is convincingly expressed by Jenny's seamless juxtaposition of modern piano-based composition (Blue Fox; Gwen Harwood Impromptus) with traditional pieces like A Bhanarach Donn a Cruidh and As Sylvie Was Walking. Right throughout this beautifully crafted album, the ancient is integrated with the modern, the innovated with the long-inherited, the organic with the synthetic. While Jenny employs symbolic ballad poetry as her main communicative vehicle, ingenious musical support is provided by settings that tightly combine elements as starkly traditional as the unaccompanied voice, with those as experimental as random digital sound generation. Typical of this treatment is her performance of the 'magical' ballad, Green Bushes, where the obscurity of a mythological narrative of death and regeneration is emphasised by the radical ambiguity of Jenny's interpretation of the song's rhythm and tonality. Worlds of meaning – both personal and universal - are further implied by sound effects woven through what is a typically non-standard musical arrangement. The choice of material here reflects also the paradox of a European-Australian identity. Classic lyrics of the bush such as The Reedy Lagoon and The Stockman's Last Bed – both performed in ways which give them new life and meaning – alternate with ballads like The Female Rambling Sailor and The Bonny Bunch of Roses that exhibit far more explicitly their Anglo-Celtic provenance. That all these songs were learned by Jenny from field recordings of Australian women singers, and the fact that all are performed in a similarly contemporary and convention-defying manner, suggest that the tale of the stock-camp or river bend must be taken together with the portrayal of the elemental forces of love, loss, and ambition, as contributing equally to the expression of a fundamental Australian feminineness. The sounds you will hear on this recording are clear, fresh, colourful, and thought-provoking. Sung voices of varying timbres are interwoven with the thick complexity of pianos, the simple plucked poignancy of the harp, the brash throatiness of trumpet and trombone, and the smooth richness of clarinet, viola and string bass. Other sounds – no less pleasing - are far harder to classify, having their origin in the infinitely surprising realm of electronic creation.

The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret

The Man in the Moon drinks Claret: the second Pyewackett album, with artwork by Max Ernst (from 'The Phases of the Night') It's easy to see why this group was so popular: this 1982 album sparkles with a playful sense of fun, delivered by a skillful quartet who like to surprise. Hey We to the Other World starts off very trad English acapella but quickly devolves into a burlesque reggae stew that somehow suits it perfectly. Other tracks retain trad politeness while interwoven with singular invention. Pyewackett specialized in very old material which they made current and very much alive. Check out one of the jazziest versions of Tam Lin ever recorded, followed immediately by an entirely loopy Merry-go-round Broke Down. Weird and wonderful.
Pyewackett's second and best album veers from the 15th century to 1930s Hollywood with never a foot out of place. They were one of the innovative English dance and concert bands of the 1980s who foreswore dreary rumpteetiddly drummers and seesaw concertinas in favour of bassoon, hammered dulcimer, violin, clarinet and synth played with oomph, style and brilliant musicianship. Their versions of late medieval dance tunes — Amoroso, the B de B/Bear Dance and, er, Dan and the Wombat — belt along with an astonishing driving force and inventive arrangements. Rosie Cross's clear, slightly lisping voice ranges from the eerie versions of Tam Lin and The Grey Cock to the jolly Ce Mois de Mai and The Well Below the Valley. The bizarre 1930s Merry Go Round Broke Down has simply to be heard to be believed. If you're tired of trad and bored of bands that have been going so long that they are just a parody of themselves, buy this, and they might re-release the other three albums.


Pyewackett was one of those groups that defied categorization: experimenting with English traditional material, early music from France and Italy, and electronic music. While playing as a dance band with a caller, they also played in concerts in the UK, and abroad as part of the British Council tours. It's not surprising to learn that Pyewackett's members met at university in the late 1970s, where their common interests led to a very creative ensemble with an entertaining repertoire: 'pop music from the last five centuries' as one of their posters read.

Pyewackett on stage at Cropredy in 1984










Pyewackett were Ian Blake (woodwinds, bass, keyboards, vocals), Rosie Cross (vocals, bassoon, hammer dulcimer), Mark Emerson (violin, viola, vocals), and Bill Martin (vocals, keyboards, guitar), with Micky Barker (percussion). They were able to interpret a wide variety of music with exuberance, allowing both the individual instruments and the arrangements to shine. Much of their material came from John Playford's English Dancing Master of 1651, a source of much inspiration to those playing in the Anglo folk traditions, but somehow the other, diverse material also seems right, perhaps because of the strong vocals, tight harmonies, and unusual combination of woodwinds and strings. The classic themes of British Isles folk music form a core linking the material together. Murder, incest, visits from the beloved dead, a spring time romance, and the fairy folk all appear, surrounded and supported by some really nice instrumentals that evoke a magical gig, perhaps from time gone by.

Of course the synthesizer lines may suggest a magical gig from times to come -- do they play folk music on the Enterprise? But I digress... I particularly enjoyed the use of strings and woodwinds -- the bassoon rarely makes an appearance in folk circles, but its bouncy, round bass sound really contributes to the sense of the ancient-made-modern that Pyewackett created.

There are some real gems on this disc. Tam Lin is well done, in a spare arrangement, with Cross's vocals reminiscent of June Tabor's as she sings in the lower part of her range -- although the twangy bass is a bit distracting at the close of the song. Ce Mois de Mai is jaunty and exuberant in its celebration of spring -- with a renaissance 16th century flavour composed of layered vocals and woodwinds -- lovely and never stiff. The Well below the Valley evokes an isolated rural misery for the mother of nine murdered children born of incest, all with an upright chorus sung in harmony. I also really liked portions of the opening track, Amoroso, and the final track, Dan and the Wombat, both instrumentals, which have some lovely woodwind and fiddle passages.

The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret recalls a very vibrant, creative time for English folk music; it's a lively and vivacious listen that maintains its uniqueness and charm after almost two decades of various other folk music fusion projects. Give it a listen for both the trip down memory lane, and to put some perspective on more recent attempts to bring the synthesizer into the folk idiom.

Wonder Tales of Earth and Sea

The CD cover for'Wonder Tales of earth and Sea' WARNING: This CD will ignite your child's imagination and cause them to listen to it over and over instead of watching TV!
Winner of the National Library of Australia's Special Award for children 4-9 years.
The art of the bard or storyteller is very much alive and well with this sparkling collection of tales and songs. Weaving together traditional, modernised and original stories, to captivate the imaginations of children and their grownups, tale weaver and singer Jenni Cargill will take you to worlds full of wonder and adventure.
The recording is beautifully produced by multi-talented musician and composer Ian Blake, who plays no less than eight acoustic instruments- from lyre to ukulele, from banjo to shakuhachi. Ian has been involved in over 20 albums for children.
Like the bright cover....all the tracks on this CD sparkle with vitality.
Graham Ross, Director, National Storytelling Conference

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