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joquail thecartographerArtist: Jo Quail
Title: The Cartographer
Genre: Alternative / Metal / Cello / Cinematic / Instrumental / Film Music / Post Rock
Release Date: 6th May 2022
Label: By Norse Music

Album Review

‘The Cartographer’ has been waiting for its public airing since 2020. The piece was commissioned by the renowned RoadBurn Festival in The Netherlands to be played in April that year, but alas due to the onset of the plague and its welcomed or irritating inconvenience (delete as appropriate) the performance had to be set back. Looking on the bright side, two years have been put to good use to rehearse and hone the piece so that it was 100% perfect when played on the 23rd April at the 013 Venue in Tilburg. It also GAVE JO QUAIL the opportunity to record the piece at Groenland Studios in The Netherlands replete with all of the musicians involved and which will be released on May 6th.What this piece explores is the nexus or liminal space where classical instrumentation and heavy music meet. In the words of JO QUAIL herself: “Heaviness is an emotional concept that goes far beyond the limits of volume, speed and instrumentation”. To me heaviness is also space, timing, phrasing, tone and many other things that go beyond the realm of words. You have that in abundance here.

‘The Cartographer’ is composed of prose of five phrases, each phrase containing an intention for the different movements. Each of these musical phrases is pared through the artist’s pitch system and created the musical motif on which the whole work is based. ‘Movement One’ starts with a bombastic drum, rubbery drone and stringed slivers that set the tone before a piece of poetry is recited. The Blackness is slow moving and low hanging like smoke or mist. Tension hangs in the air whilst the sparse soundscape is akin to a desolate land devoid of trees / life. To me this is like looking into the centre of a dead soul. Jo’s cello, sparse and in keeping with her compositional rules, flits in and out like lightning illuminating barren ground. There’s also a hypnotic feel of being stuck in a stoney rut as bell sounds mesmerise the ears, it’s as if I can hear my neurons firing! Track two starts with a cacophony of Trombones, sophisticated Carnyxes suffused with the bass end of the piano and wiry violin gyrating and weaving its thin sound in and between the brass. Bombast percussion, dissonant sounds, piano trinkets and violin trill. Mesmerising but ominous. Vocalisations of a medusa-like creature echo from the deep, deep shadows. What is it? Yes, the brass is very ‘War Of The Worlds’!

‘Movement Three’ is the longest piece on the album and has voices opining from some shimmering deep place. It feels dissonant in the way you can like someone intensely and hate them with the same vigour? You know how something can taste horridly nice or a picture can be disgustingly beautiful? This is dark and light and heavy and nice and ominous and chilling. It’s like a cross between a Gormenghast score and ‘The Maldoror Chants’ by SCHAMMASCH. “Bloody awesome!” is all I can say to sum this piece up! The ominous and creepy male vocal delivered by Jake Harding is like a saw cutting through blackened butter! You have to wait nine minutes for this bit though but it is well worth it! I love the “bright” pump of the trombones at the end as if in a salute of perverted triumph!

‘Movement Four’ has percussion that hits like distant thunder. A drone flickers like lightning. The cello flits in accompanied by brass. Legions of Elven creatures’ tip toe dance into a flame lit circle, eyes bright in the orange light. This feels quite mischievous. ‘Movement Five’ on the other hand, is a track that starts with glottal vocals, a cacophony of strings that compete with soaring, wailing voices and then the two gel together into a smoothly linear flow. This is a song of numerous Gorgons shimmering beguilingly from the deep shadows, the violin pleading. The track concludes with deep resonance. Which is in keeping with the piece as a whole. It’s resonant.

Yes, resonant and compelling. Otherworldly and alien, this is a well thought out piece of music that defies genre and that takes you on an intense journey into space you’ve probably been before but not seen from this perspective. There are cellists out there who are in JO QUAIL’s league but what makes JO QUAIL stand out is the capacity to coax out of an instrument, along with the intelligent use of effects and loops, sounds that would not otherwise have ears to hear. If Dante Alghieri was alive today, I’m sure he’d seek JO QUAIL out as the go to composer for his movie version of his ‘Inferno’ ‘The Cartographer’ is also one of those pieces that has to have a special moment to be appreciated. You wouldn’t crack open a special bottle of wine if the time / date / quality of company etc was not right. Neither should you with this. In summary, this is just spiffing! I’ll repeat that! It’s spiffing! It’s shameful that I was not there to witness the first public airing in the flesh…


01. Movement 1 (12:07)
02. Movement 2 (8:58)
03. Movement 3 (14:58)
04. Movement 4 (7:15)
05. Movement 5 (4:18)


Jo Quail - Electric Cello
Danielle Van Berkom - Electric Violin
Floris Verbeij - Piano
Jake Harding - Vocal
Nils Jenster and Vito Guerrieri - Orchestral Percussion
The New Trombone Collective (Remko De Jager, Koen Kaptijn, Alexander Verbeek, Pierre Volders, Sebastiaan Kemner, Lode Smeets, Mark Boonstra and Brandt Atemma)
Spoken word written by Jo Quail and narrated by Alice Krige
Conducted by Jos Pijnappel


Cover Picture

joquail thecartographer


Music: 9
Sound: 9
Total: 9/10

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