by Aaron Gidney

Internationally acclaimed Cellist/Composer, Jo Quail reissues her 2016 album, ‘Five Incantations’, giving it the deluxe vinyl treatment.

For those of you not yet acquainted with Jo Quail, upon listening to Five Incantations, you will find yourself immediately immersed in her dark, sweeping world of looped Cellos fit for a film score of an epic movie waiting to be made. Her innovative use of loops as a percussive and musical accompaniment can easily fool the casual listener that this is a group rather than a solo Cellist.

The overall tone of this release is a dark one, and parts could even be described as sinister, however, the intensity of music undoubtably captures the imagination and envelopes the listener into its musical depth.

Opener, White Salt Stag uses a rhythmic Cello loop to give a backdrop of movement which almost feels like you’re on board a Viking longship on its way to war and pillage. There’s an eerie avant-garde feel to the track which gives a sense of dread and foreboding, which as described above, would fit perfectly with an epic movie soundtrack or some of the war scenes from TV Series, Vikings. One of the wonderful qualities of Jo’s music is its ability to enable the listener to lose track of time and the track lengths that it’s almost slightly disappointing when each track ends.

The Breathing Hand offers a slightly different vibe, this time without the rhythmic accompaniment and whilst maintaining some sinister vibes using musical modes over a pedal tone of B, gives the listener almost a sense of stillness and peace following the intense opener.

Salamander reintroduces the use of a rhythmic loop over which the track’s melody is introduced and then layered with multiple harmonies – a hallmark of Jo’s style and an excellent example of what expansive options looping can have. Although the rhythmic backdrop helps keep the musical journey flowing, it never overpowers the haunting melodies and still gives the tracks an ambient feel. Halfway through the track, Cello backing in a lower register offers some depth and Jo also starts to utilise digital effects on some of the melody lines before slowing down to almost a halt.

Between Two Waves, dispenses with the rhythmic loops and instead loops an unsettling and almost disturbing melody using minor and dissonant note choices, occasionally fading in lower bass notes to thicken the sound, before quickly disappearing. As I was listening to this track, I had vibes of Swedish Black Metal artist, Myrkur and upon further research its apparent that the two have worked together on tour. Vibe radar intact!

Original album closer, Gold, is the longest track on the album at 11 minutes 30 seconds and brings back the rhythmic loops to set up the track, this time, using a heartbeat rhythm. It’s another laid-back affair using long, legato chordal strokework before more effects are introduced to looped layers. Some of the distortion and delay effects on the Cello could easily be mistaken for some high-gain lapsteel/slide guitar which is testament to Jo’s innovative approach to such a classical instrument not usually associated with the digital realm of guitar effects. These nuances give her the ability to utilise the Cello in ways you wouldn’t normally be able to and demonstrates a creativity to her playing, rather than aimlessly layering Cello lines on top of each other without any tonal difference.

The bonus track on this reissue is a live version of The Breathing Hand which includes some spoken word and choral vocal additions which feel a very natural accompaniment despite not being present on the studio version. This version sounds like it was recorded in a chamber which benefits the haunting music, albeit magnifying and amplifying every creak and cough offered by the audience present for this mesmerising performance.

Although London-based, I can’t help but describe the music as almost ‘Scandinavian Noir’ – there’s such a Nordic feel to the music – and perhaps this has served as some inspiration for Jo. Either way, its emotional rawness, musical purity and intensity is something to behold whether you’re into solo orchestral instrumentation or not. There’s a tonal depth to the Cello which the Violin or Viola doesn’t always offer and clearly Jo has managed to carve out this niche despite other stringed instruments being more popular. Much of the mesmerising and hypnotic rhythmic soundscapes betray influences such as Tool or even some of Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics, whilst offering a unique take on use of instrumentation that sets her apart from all others. A true innovator indeed.

Overall, a beautifully dark, hypnotic, avant-garde journey that grips the listener from start to finish.


  1. White Salt Stag
  2. The Breathing Hand
  3. Salamander
  4. Between Two Waves
  5. Gold
  6. The Breathing Hand (Live)


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