The career of Bert Jansch is often split into two arcs: that explosive, progressive opening period, and his later role as the elder statesman to a new generation of guitarists obsessed with innovations.
‘Avocet’ is remarkable in that it falls between these two chapters, yet contains some of the most enjoyable music of his career. Bert became a farmer following the split of folk supergroup Pentangle in 1973, before returning to music as the decade closed.
Touring Scandinavia with Martin Jenkins, the duo settled in a Danish studio in the opening weeks of 1978 to work on fresh material. Old Pentangle sparring partner Danny Thomson joins on bass, and the album is remarkable in the way that such a sparse template can result in such a torrent of fresh ideas.
Famously, each track on ‘Avocet’ is named in honour of a bird. The title track opens the set, and it is perhaps the record’s most daring, ambitious and formidable moment. A 20 minute progressive workout on traditional song ‘The Cuckoo’ it is reminiscent of the expansive version of ‘Jack Orion’ featured on Pentangle’s ‘Cruel Sister’ set. This time round, however, there is plenty of space for the musicians to move – ranging from straight forward folk to a frenzied free jazz solo on double bass, this is inspiring stuff.
Entirely instrumental, ‘Avocet’ is a surprisingly melodic project. ‘Lapwing’ is a 90 second piano piece, almost Baroque in tone, while ‘Bittern’ contains moments of fragrant beauty, as easy on the ear as any in the Jansch catalogue.
‘Kingfisher’ has a bluesy tone, the plucked notes of the guitar set against a fluid bass line and the down-home screech of Martin Jenkins’ violin. ‘Osprey’ is one of the more rhythmically complex pieces on ‘Avocet’, with its jagged time signature recalling Dave Brubeck’s work in complex time. The record never falls into the trap of being obscure for the sake of obscurity, though, the three players always willing to bring each piece back into melodic focus.
‘Avocet’ is rounded out by ‘Kittiwake’, a cute piece that tumbles over itself, packed with gleeful invention and the odd moment of real humour; there’s a sense of enjoyment, of contentment, at work here that is entirely charming. Bert Jansch regarded ‘Avocet’ with fondness, both the material itself and the avian theme sitting close to his heart. Spruced up for a new re-issue, it’s time - if you'll pardon the pun - to let ‘Avocet’ take flight once more.
- - -
- - -