AMN Reviews: Jo Quail – Five Incantations (2016 / 2020 reissue; AdderStone Records)

Cellist Jo Quail makes gorgeous music. Full Stop. Her 2016 release, Five Incantations, is being reissued later this year on deluxe vinyl with a bonus live track. If you missed the album on its first go around, don’t hesitate to make up for lost ground.

Quail is ostensibly a solo performer, but her albums include multi-tracked pieces with effects. As a result, she accompanies her melodies with layered patterns, drones, and even percussive elements. Said melodies are the focus of her playing, exhibiting a range of feelings from melancholy to ominous to exhilarating. Informed as much by heavy metal as by classical, Quail weaves memorable themes over anchoring riffs. The result is cinematic, evoking medieval and primordial landscapes.

With each track in the 6-12 minute range, Quail gives herself plenty of time to explore. She is in no hurry, letting the music evolve in an organic fashion. Case in point, the opener – White Salt Stag – includes a rhythmic pattern accompanied by an expanding series of multitracked motifs. These slowly build to a heavy and majestic crescendo without defining a particularly dominant melody. Beneath Two Waves, on the other hand, is atmospheric with softly meandering lines until the halfway point where Quail introduces an assertive solo of sorts before returning to a more restrained approach. Gold features a heartbeat rhythm backing up dissonant, echoing riffs and wailing leads.

The live bonus track is a spoken word / choral version of The Breathing Hand (which appears in its original form earlier on the album).  Not only do these voices reinforce the aforementioned medieval and primordial aspects, but they also add further character to the track, weaving their way in and between Quail’s cello and extending the piece’s length by about one-third.

In any event, Five Incantations is a must-have for anyone who appreciates Quail’s style or is intrigued enough to give it a try. There is an undeniable and compelling dark beauty to these works. Highly recommended.