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Bones of All Men

Last one in the big catchup that began last week:

Combining renaissance music and rock has been tried by quite a few artists over the years, from Gentle Giant and Renaissance in the 1970s to Blackmore's Night and In Extremo in the nineties and aughties. It's... hard work. Underuse the rock instruments and you end up with kitchy renaissance-muzak-with-a-drumbeat, over-use them and you get bombast tarted up with crumhorns. The Bones Of All Men (and of several remarkable curiosities therein occurring being a compendium of Davnces, Pavannes, Steps and such, played this time), by Mr. Phillip Pickett with Mr. Richard Thompson & the Fairport Rhythm Section, gets it right nearly all of the time. I suppose it helps that Mr. Pickett is one of the leading early music woodwind players, Mr. Thompson is a genius on the guitar, and Messrs. Nicol, Pegg and Mattacks form one of the most seasoned rhythm sections in the Western world. Together, aided by keyboardist Sharona Joshua and medieval violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk (on one track only), they create stomping, dynamic versions of mostly 16th century keyboard compositions.

Nearly all tracks are in medley form, which means that little time gets wasted on unnecessary repetitions and middle eights. The simple structure of early dance music allows for endless stringing together of tunes - Track 7 includes five of them. My favorites are the second track, "Chi Pasa Per Sa Strada" and the eighth, a nine-minute medley of four tunes building up to a rousing climax in which the rock band (essentially the Full House line-up of Fairport Convention, minus Dave Swarbrick) finally gets to let loose. It's hard to tell what exactly they do to create the buildup; the band just pounds on in the same mid-tempo and at the same volume, but the tension rises with each measure. The third part of the medley is a Swedish-sounding composition for medieval fiddle and symphony (meaning, I think, an early form of the hurdy-gurdy), and leads to the second climax in the fourth part.
Special praise for musicianship should go to bassist Dave Pegg, whose understated, contrapunctal contributions are his best work in many years.
The album is impeccably produced by Joe Boyd who also produced the early Fairport records. He may not be trustworthy with people's wallets but he is very good at realising his musicians' artistic visions. The sound is lovely.
This record takes some getting used to. The first track, featuring the recorder as a solo instrument, is a bit off-putting to listeners attuned to more vigorous-sounding instruments, but once you get over that it's a fine record that grows with each listening. Highly recommended for fans of instrumental music.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 6, 2004 1:25 PM.

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