Jon Swayne & Zephyrus - ENGLISH SUITE

Jon Swayne & Zephyrus - ENGLISH SUITE
Rocke Records ROCCD4

Jon, a founder member of Blowzabella, subsequently formed the trio Moebius in 1992 and the seven-piece Zephyrus in 1998; he currently plays in a duo with accordionist Becky Price. The Zephyrus ensemble’s six bagpipe players all use Border-style bagpipes: Jon plays high-C pipes and David Faulkner (Eel Grinders) and Chris Walshaw (Meridian, Climax Ceilidh Band) both play low-C pipes, whereas Lawrence Morgan-Anstee (Eel Grinders) and Judy Rockliff and Anne Marie Summers (both of Misericordia) play the G model instrument. Together the six musicians make a wonderfully rich, sweet-toned and expressive drone-based sound, with their blended harmonies and counterpoint driven along by the sympathetic yet solid percussion work of seventh member Terry Mann.

Jon’s succinct booklet note explains the philosophy behind the piece better than I could: "In writing new music for traditional instruments, it seems natural to start from the dance and song forms of where you live, hence the title English Suite - but there is no need to be limited by them, and I hope this music goes beyond them in various exciting and creative ways." So Jon’s English Suite is the second composition of “absolute music” that he’s written specifically for this ensemble (the first being the Playford-inspired Halfe Hannikin Variations); it uses English song and dance forms as the basis for new themes, and consists of six individual “movements”, which are well contrasted. Jig and Rant are self-explanatory I guess, and much as you’d expect from a sinuous exploration of the relevant dance form, whereas the second movement Ballad treats us to a long song melody in five-time.

On the beautiful fifth movement (Song), the blended pipes produce a stately organ-like sonority, whereas the hypnotic effect of the fairly extended fourth, Dirge, is directly inspired by the slightly scary, primitive Lyke-Wake and is quite reminiscent of that very quality in the music of the Third Ear Band. The finale, Hornpipe (actually a 3/2 double-hornpipe), has some fun falling over its own steps. In view of its brevity, though, I feel that the English Suite might well (should playing-time allow) make an interesting (and more viable) CD proposition if reissued with a recording of the aforementioned Playford-inspired composition as coupling.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 84 of The Living Tradition magazine.