TVD Radar: Bert Jansch, The Ornament Tree reissue in stores 10/8

VIA PRESS RELEASE | The Ornament Tree, Bert Jansch’s 1990 album for small British label Run River, was a revelation: a fully-rounded, beautifully and powerfully realised concept. As had been the case with the all-instrumental project Avocet (1979) over a decade before, Bert had set out with a very clear idea and had delivered consummately.

For The Ornament Tree Bert was joined on any given track by up to four musicians from a pool of eight, including current Pentangle colleagues Peter Kirtley and Nigel Portman Smith, and not least Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle. Kirtley, a soulful, spiky player from the North East, had been a Jansch fan for years, following Bert’s career from afar and recently socialising with him through a mutual friend:

“Working with Bert never crossed my mind,” says Kirtley. “We used to play darts, have a few pints and talk, basically. But I was thrown into it pretty quick. He just said one day, ‘I’m going to Ireland next week, do you fancy coming?’” An accomplished, dynamic player capable of great sensitivity and wild bursts of energy, often in the same song, Kirtley had long realised that the key to enhancing Bert’s music was first understanding fully how it was constructed and performed: bass lines, melody lines, ornamentation, rhythm and whatever else was happening on that one guitar.

“The thing about Bert’s music is that it’s already complete,” says Kirtley. “He can play it by himself or with a band or whatever but other musicians can only orchestrate what’s already there. People can copy Bert but they can’t write what Bert writes, that’s the difference.”

As to Tilston and Boyle’s contribution, much of the production and arrangement values on the album bear comparison to their own work of the period. Bert has often acknowledged Maggie in particular as a major influence on the album, and as a personal favourite singer next to Anne Briggs.

Released in November 1990, The Ornament Tree can now be seen to represent the foundation of the critical, creative and commercial renaissance that Bert would enjoy in the wake of his next solo album.

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