Adrian Ainsworth nominates Jo Quail: ‘Five Incantations’
In recent years, my listening has evolved and expanded from rock/folk/electronica more and more towards the labyrinth of listening options that is ‘classical music’… So perhaps it’s no wonder that one of my favourite artists is someone who is continually developing along those lines as a musician.
Jo Quail is a cellist and composer who produces work primarily (but not exclusively) for performance on her own electric cello, plus loop station. This electronic aspect allows her to write pieces that develop layer upon layer into something genuinely, and at times overwhelmingly, orchestral. Part of the exhilaration of seeing her live is to watch how the tracks build: the total absence of trickery, the obvious presence of melodic/harmonic invention, and rhythmic precision.
Because she emerged from, broadly speaking, the avant-garde ‘underground rock’ world, it’s still perhaps most common to encounter JQ supporting a heavy instrumental guitar band, or quietly wowing a festival crowd on the continent. But when she stages a concert of her own, she gives her ‘classical’ side equal weight – as with her recent composition for electric and acoustic cellos, percussion and choir, ‘This Path with Grace’. (To me, it’s a mystery why a label like NMC or ECM aren’t paying more attention – perhaps it’s a side-effect of JQ building her fanbase in all corners of the music-going public?)
However, her latest recording ‘Five Incantations’ is, in its own way, her most ambitious and fully-realised project yet. The ‘incantations’ are related movements that form a kind of suite, or single-player concerto, for cello and electronics. As we’re guided through the elements, the mood shifts between driving, stately anthems and near-ambient, gliding pauses for reflection. Overall, the work is designed for listening in one sitting – and JQ plays it live, entirely solo, in an unbroken, 40-minute sequence.
That said, ‘Gold’ is perhaps the section that can most readily stand alone. Before the album’s release, JQ issued an alternative mix of this particular track, and I’m very fond of it – I return to it often, especially if I don’t have time to play the whole CD. It encapsulates the attractions of her music beautifully. The unhurried patience of the tune as it nestles in your brain; the heartbeat rhythm (created by striking the cello) dovetailing with the harsher, bowed punctuation points that kick in after around five minutes; the way the loops allow various parts to ‘slot’ in and out until finally fitting together like a musical jigsaw.
If you like this, please investigate further on JQ’s Bandcamp page (https://joquail.bandcamp.com/album/five-incantations), where you can listen to – and buy – her music.
(To give an idea of the ‘live’ experience with something a little more pacy than ‘Gold’, here is a performance of ‘Laurus’ from the previous album ‘Caldera’ – the video allows you to see the quickfire use of loop pedals, all managed in a near-balletic style while playing an absolute blinder with the hands!)
Meet the Artist……Jo Quail
Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at