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Three Cane Whale, St George’s, Jan 23

January 25, 2014

Three Cane Whale, the Bristol trio of multi-instrumentalists who have originated a unique style of pastoral, acoustic, somewhat folky, and soulfully English tune-making have been quietly gathering a dedicated following over the last couple of years – witness the very healthy crowd at this gig on their home turf. Both they and the audience seemed delighted to be there.

There is impressive variety from the threesome – Pete Judge, most often seen as a trumpeter (Get the Blessing, Dakhla, Eyebrow) here also plays harmonium, chimes, lyre and a splendidly approximate portable nineteenth century keyboard called a Dulcitone. Alex Vann essays mandolin, psaltery, zither and banjo, among other things. Even guitarist Paul Bradley wields a miniature harp now and then.

In various combinations they are deployed in a series of infallibly charming miniatures –  musical picture postcards. The atmosphere is mostly laid-back, contemplative, edging toward melancholy (though no blue notes here). Their recent second album was recorded in a series of rural locations – hilltops, derelict chapels, ancient monuments, that kind of thing – and successfully captures the moods they evoke.

The effect of a succession of such pieces might be a little irritating in less inspired hands, but is oddly delightful. The tunes are invariably beguiling, with a quality that is hard to pin down. It feels like discovering a new variant of “world music”, which comes from a normally invisible region of Britain – slightly exotic, but somehow also familiar at a deeper, timeless level. The best moments, for me, include the trumpet, and I found I was imagining Don Cherry greeting the sound of the trio with his mile wide grin and immediately offering to join in. He, too, had a knack of incorporating varied, often simple materials and recombining them in ways that sound fresh.

The last third of their set, before the encore, saw the trio augmented by John Pearce’s violin and Beth Porter’s cello. The strings swelled the sound without compromising the character of the music, and they fitted in seamlessly. It was an intriguing new direction for the trio, and on this showing it would be excellent to hear them on the next album. Meanwhile, it was a rare treat to see players who make instrumental music to, as it were, please themselves, pleasing so many others. Long may they prosper.





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