Cellist and composer Jo Quail has been wowing live audiences with her solo shows for a number of years now – with particular love coming from the metal community, for whom she plays regular festival shows. Her new release, Invocation / Supplication, shows her compositional skill in full relief over two three-track song cycles of around seventeen minutes each, packaged together in a lovely vinyl edition, or available to listen to on Bandcamp.
As the blurb states, there is something earthy and primal about these two pieces, each featuring different performers to give alternative perspectives on material that has emerged from a similar spiritual wellspring. Invocation features Jo’s cello amid vocals from Maria Franz of Nordic primitive folk band Heilung, a choir, French horn, trombone, percussion and bass, while Supplication takes a more stripped-down approach by layering cello, trombone and vocals, this time from Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (‘LEF’), known for his work with Pat Mastelotto and Colin Edwin in the amazing O_R_k.
The cycles were written with the voices of Maria and LEF in mind, and although they are not singer focused as such, the wonderful performances from both are intrinsic to the success of the two works. The music itself is beyond pigeonholing and pushes the envelope of its ‘contemporary classical’ tag, whilst harking back to the intrinsic feel of much older times.
Invocation opens with the rhythmic throb of Macha, drums adding a martial pulse that continues throughout, the music intensifying as an eerie brass element ramps up the threat level. It’s a smouldering intro that suggests armies on the move and shows why the metalheads have taken an interest. Big and bold, the startling high-pitched wail of Maria’s voice emerges in the final section as all of the elements come together in a rousing crescendo, before ebbing back to a bleak lone voice – primal indeed. The spectral beauty of Willow of All maintains the sinister feel as Maria’s unsettling voice moves around in the middle distance amid multi-layered cello, conjuring images of misty marshes or disconcerting breezes through dank woodland at twilight; enigmatic and evocative, it’s a dreamlike mirage within which the barest hints of the horrors to be found in the dark places emerge. Textures shift, sliding over each other to create a moving soundscape that terminates in a phantom descending line from Maria. The ancient rhythms are set back within Baroscyre to give a stately throb, organ invocations of brass maintaining the foreground, moving to cello with that haunting voice giving a human face to the overriding sense of fear and despair in the face of overwhelming odds, all rising in ghostly fanfare.
Over to Supplication and The Calling sees LEF’s striking vocal conveying the required sense of earnest begging. It’s a melancholic piece as the voice weaves around shifting cello, the setting downbeat and mournful but with a beautiful clarity and feel, like a sonorous call to the dead. Within atmospheric effects, Jo’s cello offers a slow and undulating lament in Maestoso, rising to a majestic orchestrated theme before falling back to one final and long drawn out note. It’s filled with detail and deeply emotional. There’s an Arabic tone to LEF’s vocal for Kyralaste, layered with a drone and background vocals to add intrigue in a ‘less is more’ setting which offers great variety within its subtle brass inflected textures. It lifts to some evocative peaks with a quite amazing performance from LEF – proper hairs on the back of the neck stuff.
Contemporary classical does mediaeval; it’s dark and bleak but with real heart in the humanity of the music as the quality of the arrangement, performances and production come together to make for a moving and involving listen, drawing the listener into a mystical world with a suggested history that you can only catch in snatched glimpses. It would make a great soundtrack to a particular brand of myth-making. With the lights off it gives a tantalising aspect into another world, where the spectre of the age-old fight between good and evil is writ large.
Fascinating, deeply affecting and particularly worthy, Jo’s compositions continue to confound and delight in equal measure.
[Jo Quail tours the U.K. with guitarist Jon Gomm during December, starting on the 7th in Southampton, followed by dates in Brighton, Frome, Gloucester, Swansea, Bristol, Worcester and Manchester, with January shows in London and Leeds. Full details can be found in the TPA Gig Guide.]
01. Macha (7:10)
02. Willow of All (5:33)
03. Baroscyre (4:57)
04. The Calling (5:28)
05. Maestoso (7:36)
06. Kyralaste (4:48)
Total time – 35:32
Jo Quail – Cello
Maria Franz – Vocal
Tom Atherton – Percussion
Ben Ellis – Bass
Julia McDonell – French Horn
Steve Thompson – Trombone
The Choir of Sing United
Jake Harding – Additional Vocal
Jo Quail – Cello
Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari – Vocal
Koen Kaptjn – Trombone
Record Label: ByNorse Music
Formats: Ltd.Ed. Coloured Vinyl Editions, Download
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 3rd November 2023