|Left to Right: Jansch, Thompson, McShee, Cox, Renbourn|
In the late 1960s' there were a number of British folk musicians with wandering ears who began to incorporate other musical styles into their versions of traditional tunes. Most, like the people who came to make up the bands Fairport Convention and Steeleeye Span, brought in the electric thump of rock and roll. One group, however, opted for the fluidity of jazz, Pentangle.
Pentangle formed around 1966 or 1967 with five members who came together from different directions. Bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox were part of the British blues-jazz scene, guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch were acclaimed folk players, Renbourn more traditionally oriented and Jansch leaning more towards the blues, and vocalist Jacqui McShee sang in folk clubs. Together they had a uniquely supple sound with Thompson and Cox providing a frisky bottom, Jansch's and Renbourn's guitars bobbing and weaving in the middle and McShee's angelically high voice, with its occasional blue inflections, soaring above all.
The group's repertoire included traditional folk songs, American blues, original numbers and even, on their album Sweet Child, a couple of Charles Mingus jazz compositions that gave Danny Thompson the chance to show his stuff. This is another of their jazzier tunes, "I Got A Feeling". As Jansch hints, the tune is swiped from one of the best, Miles Davis' "All Blues".
Pentangle had a good run as a popular group in England, even scoring a hit single in 1969, "Light Flight". They broke up more or less amicably in 1973, with everyone going off to solo careers. They reformed a few times since then in various formations with other musicians. In 1995 McShee actually had a band that went out as Jacqui McShee's Pentangle but from what I've heard of them, they had a bland New Age-y sound with none of the snap or fun of the original.
The original five did get together again in 2008 to play live and record again and they sounded just fine. They continued on intermittently until Bert Jansch died of cancer in October 2011, and as far as I can tell, that brought a permanent end to Pentangle. The music is still around though in the form a number of releases of live and broadcast recordings as well as their original records. They had a fleet, relaxed groove unique even within the experimental crucible of the 60's British folk movement with a blending of voice, guitar and rhythm nobody else matched.
Here are more samples of their work. First, a TV performance of "Travelling Song" and "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" from 1968 that highlights McShee's and Jansch's vocal blend and also shows how much Thompson and Cox brought to the band.
This version of the traditional "House Carpenter", featuring Renbourn on sitar and Jansch on banjo, shows the Indian influence that also crept into their music.
The only thing I can say about this is that it's bloody amazing.
Finally, two versions of their hit "Night Flight", the first from a 1970 BBC appearance and the second from 2008 after their reformation. 38 years dimmed very little of their talent.