Defined as ‘a blend of textures in textile and wood crafts’ Intarsia is an appropriate name for the duo of fiddle player and singer, Sarah Matthews, and percussionist Jo May, who for the past couple of years have been creating a refreshing, vibrant and original sound that combines elements of English traditional music, European dance and African rhythms.
An unusual musical marriage between a trained orchestral percussionist and an established performer on the UK scene who’s worked with the likes of Nancy Kerr, Lucy Ward and Pete Morton, it’s one that works brilliantly on a collection that ranges from the traditional to the contemporary, and includes their own compositions alongside those of Bill Caddick, Andy Cutting and even Take That, among others.
Opener ‘Mam Tor’ sets out their stall with May’s fluid balafon supporting Matthews’s dancing fiddle on a piece as dramatic as the Peak District landscape that inspired it. What follows on Sistere is a hugely entertaining musical journey that features contemporary dance tunes, including the industrial-influenced ‘Silk Mill Jig / From Shuttle to Clog’ where May’s percussion reproduces the sounds of the working mill, and an emotional voice-and-percussion take of Bill Caddick’s ‘The Barmaid Song’ that adds an extra layer of pathos to a number already filled with despair. Dave Haslam – Rock n Reel – March 2021
“SISTERE dropped on my mat this week – what a joy! Sarah Matthews is no stranger to English folk music circles but perhaps you may not have yet discovered the magic that is Jo May who casts away any preconceptions about percussionists (hooray for the rhythm-explorers!). Her deep musicality and joy for sound, rhythm and taking tunes into new wardrobes of colour and rhythm make this a wonderful partnership. Her compositions are beautiful and extraordinary. Together they breathe new light and playfulness into great tunes and songs, whether traditional or newly composed and these ladies’ compositions stand tall. I also love the photos which hint at what to expect – this CD will brighten and inspire every ear!” Karen Tweed, Accordionist, Composer, Teacher www.karentweed.com
“Intarsia delighted audiences with their superb musicianship and their carefully woven arrangements.” Mo Bradshaw, Artistic Director, Upton Festival
“Intarsia’s excellent new CD has been on repeat play in the dungeon today – Balafon and Fiddle!” Ian Anderson, Ghosts From The Basement and Powireless.com
“This duo is gonna go places. So much fun, great arrangements and creativity and just so lovely and participatory.” Alex Cumming, MC at LiveToYourLivingRoom online album launch concert http://www.alexcummingmusic.com
“We would like to say a huge thank you to Sarah and Jo for a wonderful afternoon – it was so lovely for the residents to enjoy music and the positivity they brought. The event was very much enjoyed. The residents thoroughly enjoyed a good sing song and very much welcomed the upbeat tempo and very friendly attitude of Sarah and Jo. They spoke together in the residents’ meeting about how much they enjoyed it. Residents were chatting over tea about the activity. It definitely brought joy!” Springfield House Care Home, Derbyshire
“It was a great gig. My children had all the fruit and veg shakers out and raided the cutlery draw for spoons. We also had a lengthy discussion about what size spoons were best and why people don’t play forks instead.” Audience member, LiveToYourLivingRoom online album launch concert
“Having seen Sarah Matthews before in several different line-ups, but not having come across Jo May, I was interested to catch their new duo, Intarsia, at Sidmouth in 2019. Definitely not disappointed, Sarah with her accomplished string work – mainly fiddle and viola – and Jo on various percussion instruments such as the balafon – described as an African gourd-resonated xylophone, no less. An interesting combination with excellent singing and tunes from a wide source, so do take the chance to see and hear them if you can.” Audience member, The Bedford Hotel, Sidmouth Folk Festival
Album Review – Living Tradition Magazine – Mar 2021:
Bright and breezy, optimistic sounds from Derbyshire duo, Sarah Matthews and Jo May: viola, violin and vocals from Sarah, plus Jo’s cornucopia of percussion. Prominent in the latter is the balafon, a large wooden xylophone of West African origin. This gives the album much of its instrumental colour, although it’s not used on every track. There are 11 instrumentals and four songs, giving a playing time of 63 minutes, bucking the trend for shorter albums.
In recent years, a number of groups have adopted a chamber music-like approach – I have the sound of a string quartet in mind – and while this is often very effective, Intarsia’s offering of a brighter, more ‘open’ sound palette is rather refreshing.
Of the tunes, the pairing of Les Doigts De Carmen (Evelyne Giradon) and Round The Corner (Andy Cutting) makes a fine set, and Sarah’s See No Evil, written for the dance side Stone Monkey Rapper, is representative of the very danceable articulation of much of the material – great percussion on that track too.
The duo have a fondness for the 7/8 time signature, which adds to the originality of the selection – as does the choice of a Take That song! It’s the starker (and least optimistic) song that works best for me, however; Bill Caddick’s The Barmaid’s Song.
The group name and album title? Intarsia is an elaborate form of knitting, the idea of intricate patterns being the musical connection, while Sistere is Latin for “to stand still” – somewhat ironic given all the dance tunes! This is a fine and original album, and it will be great to see Intarsia out and about again when circumstances allow.