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Three Cane WhaleThree Cane Whale
Album: Palimpsest
Label: Field Notes
Tracks: 21

Now here's a weird coincidence - only last December, I reviewed another album sporting this very unusual title (a magnificent offering from Madame Ceski). Just to remind you of the dictionary definition: an old document or parchment on which the original writing has been erased and replaced by superimposed new writing, thus by implication also anything reused or altered that still bearing traces of its original form. But this explanation turns out to be more enigmatic, posing more questions than it answers, when it comes to considering the music of Three Cane Whale.

Three Cane Whale is an acoustic ensemble comprising three versatile multi-instrumentalists, all with a keen feel for unique instrumental properties, tone and timbre and any combinations or permutations thereof. Departing from the multi-locational recording process of their previous CDs, Alex Vann (from Spiro), Pete Judge (from Get The Blessing) and Paul Bradley (from Scottish Dance Theatre) have for their third CD created live in the studios at RealWorld an exquisite and intimate tapestry of quiet musical sounds that for all its source unity maintains an extraordinary, timeless sense of place (timeless in the sense of suspended time) in shining examples of price less, gem-like musical impressionism. Although there are several instances of folksong-like melody, telling but beautiful snatches of phrase, Three Cane Whale's music is literally genre-defying, though not in any aimlessly radical sense. Instead it proves entirely harmonious, non-discordant and easy on the ear; but let not that final phrase deceive you into thinking it has no substance. Moreover, each piece in the CD's carefully-configured 51-minute sequence is perfectly formed, whether its deft and airy dandelion clock weighs in at 30 seconds or three minutes; each note is tenderly balanced and weighted like the clock mechanism..

It would be terribly boring to just list the 20 or so instruments played by TCW's three musicians, but to do so is necessary to give a flavour of the eccentric yet accommodating nature of the resulting musical adventures. Delicate string textures (mandolin, bowed psaltery, zither, bouzouki, lyre, dulcitone) interlace with bold brass (trumpet, cornet, fluegelhorn and tenor horn), with tinkling of glockenspiel, chimes, baby harp and hammered dulcimer offsetting acoustic guitar and tenor guitar, piano and reedy harmonium; and just when you're wondering why none of the three offer violin or cello, in come guest musicians Maarja Nuut and James Gow to fill the vacant chairs and augment the line-up on a number of tracks.

The album was produced by Portishead's Adrian Utley, who is evidently right in tune with TCW's musical vision; clarity of texture is exemplary. Finally, the titles of the various pieces are as imaginative and descriptive as they are cryptic - just cogitate on An Acre Of Watery Light, Brute Angels, Moon In A Bottle, The Eye On The Hill and A Magic Of Strange Welcome for a few moments… welcome to the world of Three Cane Whale, for which the very phrase "hidden gem" might well have been coined.

David Kidman