Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sunday Music: Pentangle

"Light Flight." Pentangle. Live on the BBC, c.1970.

When I was 15 or 16, I had been playing jazz in school for a while, and in my search for new music I discovered my local NPR station, which played jazz in the evenings. Not long after, I happened to tune in on a Saturday evening when Julia Meek's Folktales and The Thistle and Shamrock still shared a double-bill locally. In that age before MP3, I was in the habit of taping better radio programs for later listening. I remember three songs distinctly from that particular tape.
  • A field holler about a slave who learned to read which I've never tracked down since.
  • "Four Stone Walls" by Cappercaillie
  • A song by Pentangle that featured harpsichord, which I still haven't tracked down.
Despite being of mostly English, French, and Dutch ancestry, I immediately bit the Celtic bug that was swarming through the folk community at the time. Somehow it took me a few years to finally acquire and listen to full Pentangle albums, but I spent the 90s in awe of Fairport Convention, stolen from my mother's old records, and contemporary groups like Altan, The Pogues, and Solas.

Pentangle more-or-less embodies what I like most about "world" music, when the term is meant to refer to the actual genre rather than a lumping together of all music traditions that don't fit in other record store racks. In "Light Flight", the vocal melody is unmistakably tied to English folk music, but the harmonic and rhythmic structures of the band is unmistakably jazz-influenced. Wikipedia draws a link to Dave Brubeck's work. Unlike a lot of contemporary folk rock groups, Pentangle and many other 60s and 70s British folk rock groups didn't hide their folkiness under a flat and heavy rock beat. They used the blended elements from jazz, rock, and other folk traditions to highlight the natural qualities of the music.

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