[Reviewed by Damiano Lanzi]
English musician Jo Quail builds her compositions with layers of cello tracks overdubbed with a loop station. In the last few years there has been a wide acknowledgement of the utility of the loop station as a creative tool and even as an instrument itself, being used by many musicians to make one-man-band live sets. But while some years ago the audience was always impressed when a musician magically looped a track while playing live, now we’re more used to it and you need to have good taste and be really creative to make something impressive with the loop station.
Luckily, Jo Quail knows how to do it. She recognises that it’s banal to just add one track to another and get from a thin violin-like line to a tangled wall of sound where you can’t recognize anything apart from noise. On the other hand, she creates dynamics, preventing her sound from going towards a single direction, creating instead a dialectic of empty and full that evolves naturally. The sonic research is not a secondary aspect: she uses effects to transform the sound of her cello and make it sound like other instruments, and she tailors the frequencies of every track to make it distinct from the others. She’s obviously an excellent classically trained cellist, but with a contemporary feel to the instrument, able to find the sound of the cello not only from the bowed strings, but even from the percussion of the body or by pizzicato technique.
In this third solo album, as the title suggests, she collects five entrancing compositions. “White Salt Stag” is built on a percussive pattern on which transient cello lines create a suspended atmosphere, until the liberating theme that explodes before the coda. “The Breathing Hand” is a more traditional composition inspired by chamber music, and the fact that its ending resolves in the bouncing rhythm of “Salamander” creates a curious contrast. This is my favourite track in the album, these cello lines have a feeling between medieval and oriental music, resulting in an extremely powerful effect. Towards the end of the composition, the same themes are repeated again in a slowed version that makes everything even more epic. “Between Two Waves” is an avant-garde composition with a sparse atmosphere, while the conclusive 11-minute long “Gold” is like a summa of all the other suggestions encountered through the album. It’s also the track where Jo plays more with effects, transforming her cello into a screaming distorted guitar or into a pulsating bass synth.