Operating on the basis that all intelligent improvisation is a good thing, Care-charming Sleep comes from the consistently surprising Munich label of ECM. That ECM’s reputation has been established with an innovative catalogue of jazz and modern classical music (composers Arvo Pärt and Giya Kancheli and saxophonist Jan Garbarek count among its big hitters) gives a hint that John Potter’s Dowland Project is no rehash of madrigals and associated music.
For many years the tenor of the acclaimed early music consort the Hilliard Ensemble, Potter has used the music of John Dowland and his 17th-century contemporaries as a springboard for 21st-century interpretations. There’s a clear precedent in a number of similar recordings, most famously 1993’s Officium, where the Hilliard, Garbarek and 15thcentury liturgical music met, with stunning success.
Care-charming Sleep operates in similar territory: the formal elegance of the music swelled with the fuzzy aura of John Surman’s sax and Barry Guy’s double bass. Their presence, especially among baroque and violins, may startle purists but Potter’s project is not as unconventional as it may at first seem. Musicologists often spend their time detailing the minute nuances and pitch differences with which each age interprets historic music, implying a relative absence of what could be called an ‘authentic’ sound. This has important ramifications for all music.
But these are theoretical discussions. Potter’s graceful recording, meanwhile, breathes new life and great feeling into an area too often desiccated by scholarly attention. It’s not only sleep that’s charming.