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Purcell's Polyphonic Party Purcell's Polyphonic Party
Album: An Invitation to Dance
Label: Wet Foot
Tracks: 12

Purcell's Polyphonic Party is the gleefully alliterative collective name for three musicians at the top of their game, who are already very well regarded within the folk scene but who have more recently also been taking the social dance scene by storm. Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer are an accomplished and long-standing musical and life partnership who between them play a vast array of instruments (all exceedingly well too!), while John Dipper performs with five different ensembles (the Emily Askew Band, Methera, Alma, Dipper Malkin and Patterson Dipper). The three musicians came together to share their mutual love of baroque music, in particular its dance strand, as represented in the main here by the extensive Playford collections, from which the vast majority of this disc's repertoire is sourced (exceptions being one selection apiece drawn from the volumes by Praetorius and Kynaston).

The disc's genuinely cross-disciplinary raison-d'être is stated clearly on the outside of the tin: "You can choose to put the album on just to listen and enjoy, but crucially, each track is designed for dancing". To that end, the musicians have meticulously researched repetitions and speeds and included these in the sleeve notes. This, then, constitutes your invitation to dance - whether in physical participation or in spirit. Listening to this disc is rather akin to sitting in at a social dance and knowing the moves and steps are beyond your physical capability but you're still able to respond to the music and feel uplifted and internally energised by the playing; for here the musicians seem an embodiment of the dance (I can't think of any other way to put it).

In terms of arrangements, these match the playing in being animated and inventive, not in the least predictable or sterile. The principal melodic line tends to be carried by John Dipper's viola d'amore (which employs his own customised tuning system), with boosts from Vicki's nyckelharpa, bagpipes, recorder or flute for increased interest. Jonny skilfully varies the textural dynamics even further with harpsichord, piano, guitars, bouzouki and citole, while Vicki also picks up the double bass as the occasion demands. Each dance gets a strict number of repetitions, and although all but one of the tracks weighs in at between four and six minutes there's no sense of undue extension or outstaying of welcome. From the expressly lively - Maiden Lane, A Trip To Paris, Upon A Summer's Day - to the sprightly earworm of Hare's Maggot and the rustic Mount Hills; from the episodic traceries of Softly Good Tummas to the canon-like Emperor Of The Moon; from the more lyrical St. Margaret's Hill and the florid Kelsterne Gardens to the tricky Dick's Maggot and the invigorating La Bourée (the latter for some reason here titled Terpsichore, which, properly speaking, is the title of the exhaustive Praetorius compendium from which it's taken)…there's always ample contrast between individual dances - in matters of mood, tempo, texture and timbre - to maintain listener interest.

OK, so the inveterate musical purist might harbour a slight quibble in that PPP doesn't actually play any music by Henry Purcell (at least on this disc), but me, I honestly can't find anything to carp about with this splendidly feelgood, and sensitively recorded and balanced, disc.

David Kidman