Wooden O

A Handeful of Pleasant Delites

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Recorded and released in 1969, A Handeful of Pleasant Delites (sic), on the Middle Earth label, is the only known album by England's Wooden O. While critics at the time reviewed it as a kind of progressive folk music, the tunes here were more deeply influenced by progressive jazz and Baroque music than anything else. Led by recorder player James Harpham, the rest of the ensemble played mandolin (Hugo Dalton), double bass (Arthur Watts), harp (David Snell), and second recorder (Christopher Taylor). Italy's fine Akarma label has reissued this lost bit of '60s lore in an LP-like package with a gatefold sleeve. Remastered sound and the sheer unusual sound of this ensemble make the album a perfect post-psychedelic head-scratcher in the 21st century. There are 14 cuts here, all of them gorgeously played and arranged -- most notable is the opener, "Toye Tune," in which the recorder melodies play a sort of head and then go forth to melodically improvise like crazy. "Dance Tune" is a lush combination of Italian Renaissance melody and jazz improvisation. Watts' double bass is the perfect ground for this music because he swings no matter what he plays. There is also a Bach concerto here, entitled simply "Concerto," arranged by the band to weave British theater music, salon music, and jazz into the heart of pre-classical music. The second side is just as astonishing as the first, beginning with Watts' driven double bass on "Maypole." The two recorders play in harmonic counterpoint and offer a sense of true flight before the improvisation begins in a call-and-response way between the bass and the recorders. The jazzy backwoods stroll of "Sweet-Bedded" is a deeply reflective and moving piece as Snell's harp creates a countermelody that bridges the recorders. The bottom line on A Handeful of Pleasant Delites is that freak folk fans may be interested in this because of the craft and gentleness of the tunes, but those interested in chamber jazz will find this both eye-opening and utterly enjoyable.

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