Tuesday, 19 July 2016

"Avocet" by BERT JANSCH and MARTIN JENKINS (2016 Earth Records CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...


Quite who was listening to Bert Jansch and his two pals Martin Jenkins and Danny Thompson in February 1979 on the 'budget' label Class (part of the Charisma Records group in the UK) is anybody's guess. I doubt anyone was - and that would most definitely have been 'their' loss.

The entirely instrumental "Avocet" album has an 18-minute title track on Side 1 and the other 5 bird-themed flick-and-strums on Side 2 give it a bit of a New Age meets early Americana vibe (high guitars vs. high production values). Budget label or not - in the huge 51-year arsenal (1965 to 2016) of the mighty ex Pentangle Guitar player Bert Jansch - time and a tasteful remaster have been kind to the forgotten but strangely hypnotic "Avocet" album. 

This is a gorgeous record - ambling guitar themes that float over you like a more-mellow Gordon Giltrap or Sufjan Stevens or even the soundscapes of Boards Of Canada. It isn’t all pointless noodling either – there is warmth to this Acoustic music - and at times the whole album’s swirl and sway feel like it was ahead of its Progressive time - pre-dating Nineties sounds by at least twelve years. Time for a tasty reissue - here are the flighty details...

UK released February 2016 - "Avocet" by BERT JANSCH on Earth Records EARTHCD010L (Barcode 809236171092) is a straightforward CD Reissue and Remaster of the 1979 LP and plays out as follows (37:09 minutes):

1. Avocet (17:59 minutes)
2. Lapwing (1:31 minutes) [Side 2]
3. Bittern (7:49 minutes)
4. Kingfisher (3:44 minutes)
5. Osprey (3:16 minutes)
6. Kittiwake (2:48 minutes)
Tracks 1 to 6 are the album "Avocet" - first released 1978 in Denmark on Exlibris Records EXL 30.005 (credited to Bert Jansch and Martin Jenkins). It was then released February 1979 in the UK (credited to only Bert Jansch) on Charisma CLASS 6 and November 1980 in the USA on Kicking Mule KM 310. Recorded in February 1978 at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark - Engineered and Produced by Freddy Hansson and Fleming Rasmussen - all songs are by Bert Jansch except "Osprey" which is by Martin Jenkins.

BERT JANSCH - Guitar and Piano
MARTIN JENKINS - Mandocello, Violin and Flute

The artwork for the LP has had three incarnations - the Denmark original 1978 LP with only the Avocet bird in pencil - the British reissue with five birds drawn in colour aside an inset picture of Bert with Guitar - and now this Earth Records 2016 reissue which opts for a simple but very elegant cover. The textured gatefold card sleeve is gorgeous to look at and feel with an 8-page booklet in the left flap and an 'Earth Records' inner sleeve in the right. The booklet has the six birds drawn in beautiful colour by artist HANNAH ALICE - one to each page with their correct anatomical name beneath each - Avocet (Recurvirostra Avosetta), Lapwing (Vanellus Vanellus) and so on. The downside is no liner notes of any kind. You're getting more info from me on the album than you are from the reissue that is a ridiculous situation and something 'Earth Records' needs to rectify in the future. The Remaster has been done by BRIAN PYLE (doesn't say where) and is truly beautiful - as was the original recording anyway.

Side 1 is taken up with the extraordinary "Avocet" - eighteen instrumental minutes of Acoustic Guitar pickings, Violin strokes and heavy Double-Bass meanderings. There's a central musical theme that keeps recurring - but then in goes off in tangents - Jansch on guitar alone - then Jenkins comes in on either Violin or Flute - while Danny Thompson gives it some Nick Drake/John Martyn plucks on his Double Bass. "Lapwing" is only Jenkins on Piano and feels like a Mozart ditty someone plays in a BBC production of "Pride And Prejudice".

You get a real John Martyn feel to "Bittern" circa "Solid Air" where Danny's DB dominates the track. Initially Jansch solos away on Electric and Acoustic Guitars but it slows into an unexpected Thompson solo - huge sliding notes and plucks rattling your speakers (probably my favourite track). "Kingfisher" has a beauty too - Martin Jenkins' Violin playing set against DT's Bass plucking giving the whole thing a 'where have I heard that ancient melody before' feeling - gorgeous stuff. "Osprey" is dominated by Jenkins on Violin as Jansch accompanies on Acoustic Guitar and Danny plucks that Double Bass as only he can. The playing on this song is fabulous as is the Remaster. It ends on the pretty Acoustic assault of "Kittiwake".

"Avocet" is the very definition of 'overlooked gem that shouldn't be' - an album that cries out for rediscovery. Call it Folk - call it England's 1978 answer to 1990s Americana - call it Progressive even - "Avocet" is kind of magical and well done to Earth Records for making it available again...

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