Bare Necessities

English Country Dances

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Ironically, North America probably has a more active English country dance scene than England itself does, and the Boston/Cambridge area may have the most active of all. Through the '80s and '90s, the undisputed instrumental stars of the local English country dances were the instrumental quartet Bare Necessities. Led by pianist Jacqueline Schwab, the quartet essays 11 different traditional English dance tunes, from spirited romps like "Juice of Barley" and the lively "Dick's Maggot" (an archaic term for "fancy" or "whim," by the way, not a larval fly) to a pair of haunting original tunes by the late Pat Shaw, one of the leading figures in the English country dance community. All four musicians are uncommonly graceful, and their interplay rivals that of a classic jazz band. Those unfamiliar with this style of music might find the vaguely Elizabethan melodies and lighter-than-air arrangements to be a bit twee, but English country dance enthusiasts will find this to be a definitive collection.

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