REVIEW: ‘Cwmwl Tystion / Witness’ – Cwmwl Tystion / Witness

THE IDENTITY and landscape of Wales is steeped in historical, political and cultural significance, something which composer and trumpeter Tomos Williams seeks to explore and interpret through his experimental project Cwmwl Tystion (‘Witness’ or, literally, ‘Cloud of Witnesses’, quoted from 20th century poet Waldo Williams’ ‘What is Man?’).

Cardiff-based Tomos Williams also leads folk/jazz outfit Burum and ‘Indo-Welsh’ band Khamira; but this more exploratory, frequently free-jazz suite stems from his desire to “create a piece that both celebrated and questioned the idea of Welshness and referenced notable events in Welsh history.” The democratically-spirited sextet – with Francesca Simmons (violin, saw), Rhodri Davies (harp, electronics), Huw V Williams (bass) and Mark O’Connor (drums) – also features acclaimed pianist Huw Warren; and for this live recording, captured both in Swansea and London, the performances were accompanied by the animated visuals of Simon Proffitt.

Seven movements indeed identify specific inspirations from Williams’ homeland, opening with a suitably expansive depiction of Mynyddoedd Cymru (Mountains of Wales). From rugged Snowdonia in the north to the vast, southerly sprawl of the Brecon Beacons, the majesty of Wales’ geographical wonders is illustrated through austere, ascending motifs and fierce, whirling, climatic expressions. Across more than twenty minutes, its episodic breadth and saturation is initially whelming – yet the relentless progression can also be breathtaking, its many textures including Rhodri Davies’ Jimmy Page-like electronically-manipulated harp. Welsh folk tune Glyn Tawe is beautifully interpreted by violin and piano – a plaintive melody, heard on the wind, that brings to mind Sir Edward Elgar’s useful, distant-song encounter in Llangranog – but it also seems to have a troubled soul (Elgar again!), Francesca Simmons’ ‘flattened’ string improvisations so gorgeously bittersweet.

The fascinating and well-documented connection of popular African-American baritone Paul Robeson with Welsh mining communities is remembered in Paul Robeson ac Eisteddfod y Glowyr 1957 (Paul Robeson and the Miners’ Eisteddfod 1957). This brashly jazz-swinging commemoration vigorously flashes with harp and piano, and the effect of a classic horn section from the duality of trumpet and violin is quite something. The anger of Llyfrau Gleision 1847 (the disparaging 19th century enquiry into the state of education in Wales) is communicated through urgent rhythms, crashing ‘guitar’, impassioned trumpet improv and the curious waver of a saw, while Huw Warren‘s unbridled mastery (both inside and outside the piano frame) is just glorious.

Quoting a triad of Welsh folk songs, the restless angst of Pa Beth yw Cenedl? (What is a Nation?) develops apace, Warren’s intense soloing white-hot against the throng of thrashing percussion and tumultuous bass. Tryweryn 1965 recalls the controversial flooding of valley village Capel Celyn to create a reservoir for Liverpool’s water supply, sparking huge local and political unrest, now belied by its quiet beauty. Williams illustrates these contrasts with sparky, disoriented figures and an elegant though wistful violin tune. Closing Pa Beth yw Dyn? (What is Man?) – the source of the project’s title – transforms discordancy into a verdant, straightahead-jazz celebration of Cymru, dominated by Huw Warren’s elegant pianism.

Peeling back the layers of this performance – excellently recorded, live – and either learning of or reacquainting oneself with the extraordinary history and breathtaking landscape of this nation, the creativity of Tomos Williams and his sextet becomes increasingly meaningful. A truly effective and important melding of message and music.

Released on 5 March 2021, Cwmwl Tystion / Witness is available from tycerddshop.com, iTunes and Amazon.

Tomos Williams trumpet, compositions
Francesca Simmons violin, saw
Rhodri Davies harp, electronics
Huw Warren piano
Huw V Williams bass
Mark O’Connor drums
with
Simon Proffitt live visuals

Videos: Mynyddoedd Cymru and Tryweryn 1965

Introductory YouTube video
Tomos Williams at khamira.net
tycerdd.org

Tŷ Cerdd Records – TCR029 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Phylum’ – Nazareno Caputo

DISCOVERY in music can take many forms for creator, performer or audience; and the concept takes on a more specific definition in ‘research’ recording Phylum from Italian vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Nazareno Caputo.

Caputo, who studied classical percussion at the conservatories of Gesualdo da Venosa, Potenza, and Luigi Cherubini, Florence, contributed much to double bassist Ferdinando Romano’s outstanding 2020 debut release Totem (a lush, contemporary jazz sextet/septet album featuring trumpeter Ralph Alessi). But this more challenging trio recording arguably stems from deeper, more studious origins. Combining indubitable skill as a musician with his architecture-graduate passion for structure and non-structure – viewed through evolution, elaboration and dissolution – the project documents the vibraphonist’s close dialogue of exploration with Romano and drummer Mattia Galeotti.

“The word ‘Phylum’”, he explains, ”is used in zoology and botany to indicate a precise taxonomic group. Organisms belonging to a certain phylum share the same structural plan but not necessarily [does] their morphological development [lead] them in the same direction. The music of the trio starts from similar concepts. In architecture … structure is an element that is often hidden and only there to support. Sometimes, however, [it] is also exposed and therefore becomes part of the external morphology and acquires an aesthetic value”.

So this album is conceived as an imaginary path through the concept of structure in which the ‘journeys’ are presented in shapeless, chaotic form but may then evolve into, or retreat from, more cohesive rhythms and phrases. This can perhaps be more directly assimilated as a blend of free jazz and composed forms. Recorded by renowned engineer Stefano Amerio in the crystal-clear surroundings of the Artesuono studio, Udine, these 70 minutes are indeed an organic experience, requiring full attention.

Nazareno Caputo’s sleeve notes comprehensively describe the nine tracks from his own perspective, though each is very much open to individual interpretation. Preludio’s disparate voicings succinctly demonstrate ‘order out chaos’ as they stumble upon a single note and rhythm, whereas the tentative vibraphone elegance of 13-minute Adi possesses a melodic, recognisably jazz-inflected beauty that suggests a five-note bass figure to Romano; and that becomes the basis of a crescendoing adventure which erupts to Galeotti’s frothy display at the kit. This is the first of four expansive numbers, followed by the lively vibraphone-led delirium of Dulce where Caputo’s tireless improvisations lead to solid rhythms and eventual arco-bass placidity.

Like a number of composers, including Liszt, Caputo’s basis for Abside (a polygonal, vaulted recess) is the four-note motif B-A-C-H, which persistently encourages the trio towards accelerating, percussive frenzy; and episodic Adam R. (referencing Adam Rainer – historically, the only man whose life was affected by both dwarfism and gigantism) fizzes with myriad, unpredictable expressions of animation and repose. Searching solo vibraphone introduces three-part suite Phylum, whose dreamlike central waltz suggests a more classical inspiration. Its concluding movement is the album’s closest reflection of contemporary jazz and rock, sparking a thrashing fervency from Galeotti, while the album’s brief Postludio pares down all that has gone before into the shady abstractionism of sustained chimes, knocks, cymbals and restless bowing – does this even possess a structure … or must everything?

The album trailer (linked below) presents the trio in the sympathetic environment of Giovanni Michelucci’s Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, Florence – a fine example of the artistic bond between music and architecture which Nazareno Caputo values so highly. For the listener, late-night calm or the ‘cathedral’ of pastoral spaciousness, too, can amplify the trio’s offbeat creativity – the rest is down to our imagination.

Released on 22 February 2021, Phylum is available as CD or digital album at Bandcamp.

 

Nazareno Caputo vibraphone, percussion, composition
Ferdinando Romano double bass
Mattia Galeotti drums

Trailer (1:27), Movie (9:30)

nazarenocaputo.com

Aut Records (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Sounding Point’ – Mark Feldman

VIOLIN … FREE JAZZ … isn’t that possibly a touch narrow and ‘out there’ for a 44-minute solo recital? Well, not when the album is in the secure yet exploratory hands and mind of New York-based veteran Mark Feldman.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on Intakt Records on 12 February 2021 and available at Bandcamp.

 

Mark Feldman solo violin

Mark Feldman on Intakt Records

Intakt Records – Intakt CD 354 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Trio’ – Felix Jay (3CD)

FOLLOWING the singular creative path of Felix Jay has been illuminating, and proves how limitless our discoveries can be. A varied career has seen the multi-instrumentalist collaborate with artists including Hans-Joachim Roedelius, working for NME and striking a friendship with Brian Eno, while his recording acquaintance with jazz trumpeter Byron Wallen is long-standing.

Trio isn’t a ‘jazz piano trio’ recording, as one might surmise, but a three-album work of sessions which cover a double decade, from 1999 to 2019 – two featuring Wallen and guitarist Rob Luft – and much of it recorded at his music room on the River Eye, in the serene rurality of the Cotswolds. It seems Jay has always preferred improvisational collages, yet his music is generally accessible and certainly increasingly absorbing. Personnel details and instrumentation for each album are listed further below.

Riverseyeside Recordings weaves a sinuous route, Calabash and Song for Ch(arli)e featuring muted trumpet (echoes of Miles) over rivulets of Fender Rhodes and wavering, phased electric guitar; and its Jay’s marimba and other percussion which provides mysterious depth in Bush of mists. Electronics are effective in pieces such as Sacred flutes, creating a breathy ostinato for bass clarinet to crawl through; and Shisya’s joyful conversation between scampering guitar runs, bass flute and a clapping rhythm is attractive (one of Jay’s earlier recordings, Cardamom & Coriander, demonstrates his skill with fluttering, harmonic bass flute). Fils de fils de Kilimanjaro taps into Luft’s affection for an African vibe; grooving Where’s Jack? feels like it could run and run; and expansive Must it be? It must be! views the afterglow with steel guitar shooting star trails soaring above delicate soprano sax melodies.

Jay’s connection to Indonesian ensemble music features strongly in second album, Jazz Gamelan, which is mostly his three-way dialogue with Wallen and Luft. In a slendro way quietly chimes, perhaps in reverence to Joe Zawinul; and there are delightfully mesmeric tuned percussion solo episodes such as Jasmine and Kempulus. This hour’s sequence genuinely feels like an exploration in and out of different rooms, the prepared piano and clarinet of Samburan more akin to classical chamber music, then countered by softly bass-funked, trumpet-improvised On what corner? Luft’s sitar impressions against hammered gamelan tones in Ripples (1 & 2) are inspired; and exotic, guiro-scratched Lull leads into another meditative space – In a suling way – becalmed by high, Southeast Asian-suggested soprano recorder.

Third album, Prepared/Unprepared, is a thread of Jay’s spontaneous improvisations at a prepared electric grand piano. Arguably more challenging to take in, these extended experiments seem to combine pianistic and percussive ideas, though maybe the solidity of an acoustic instrument would be more sympathetic.

For an alternative, tributary experience of predominantly improvised music, I recommend pursuing this unique collection (especially for the first and second albums) which reveals new textures every time. It was the enthusiasm of Rob Luft which prompted Jay to resurrect and complete these archive recordings, and it’s right that they have now found the light of day and are also entirely relevant to the current jazz/improvised scene. 

Recently-released Trio isn’t available through the usual channels (burningshed.com is yet to make it available). But it is on sale, directly from Felix Jay, at ebay.

 

RIVEREYESIDE RECORDINGS
Felix Jay all percussion, basses, Rhodes, piano, prepared piano
Rob Luft guitar
Byron Wallen trumpet, ngoni
Nicola Alesini bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Susan Alcorn, BJ Cole pedal steel guitars

JAZZ GAMELAN
Felix Jay all percussion, bass, piano, prepared piano
Rob Luft guitar
Byron Wallen trumpet
Jan Steele clarinet, soprano recorder

PREPARED/UNPREPARED
Felix Jay prepared Kawai electric grand piano

Hermetic Recordings – HERM 7, 8 & 9 (2019)

REVIEW: ‘What?’ – What?

FOR AN IMPROVISATORY PROJECT, the title What? perhaps poses the ultimate open-ended question. In earlier recordings on The 52nd imprint – including The Science of Snow, The Lightning Bell and Each Edge of the Field – guitarist/pianist Charlie Beresford and cellist Sonia Hammond proved adept in summoning musical vibrations from the rural landscapes of the Welsh Marches in which they dwell, inviting us, the audience, to creatively interact.

Though again recorded in their familiar surroundings of Hammond’s old schoolhouse in Radnorshire, this time the possibilities are significantly expanded with the trumpet/flugelhorn of Gerry Gold and various instrumentation from Rod Paton – primarily piano and French horn.

There’s a perennial wonder in the way that, across genres, composers painstakingly craft classic works which stay with us all our lives. But fascinating, too, is the ability of improvising musicians to begin and develop a ‘conversation’ which, moments earlier, had not existed. Somehow, too, the freshness of discovery in listening remains, influenced by our environment or mood – interpretation is certainly a personal, sometimes involuntarily emotional experience.

Heard at Eastertide (around the time of the album’s release), What? can tangibly express both torment and hope; in the dead of night, there’s a different feel, with every nuance more sharply focused; under springtime-azure skies, animation and whimsy unfold. Whatever you find, thanks to the perception and musicality within this quartet, there’s a profound connectedness which never falters.

Just five tracks across almost an hour echo the expanses of Stow Hill’s ‘trig point’ location seen in the monochrome sleeve imagery, and the combinations of timbres can be teasingly ambiguous. De-liberation’s cagey chitchat between horns, guitar and cello evolves into a playful, if tentative discussion, while the midway piano entry paints pointillistic splashes as well as providing romantic sustenance and structure. Fragile wooden-flute murmurs and chinking percussion in Hill suggest folkloric mystery, belying the rumbustious dances to follow; and Paton’s piano again brings a more tonal stability. Over twenty minutes or so, Wolf’s winding, sprawling route is waymarked with beauty – howling French horn, jangling ‘prepared’ strings, reeling piano and cello; and here, the quartet’s intuition feels particularly strong. There’s even a charming, homey coda reminiscent of the early output of once (relatively) nearby resident Mike Oldfield – tender and pretty.

Horn yelps, angular melodica and percussive guitar and cello in Is imply inhospitable weather, accentuated by droplet piano and dramatic ostinati before gathering a rhythmic, Kurt Weillian jauntiness (amidst so many other acoustically-achieved effects). To close, Beresford’s elegant guitar improv in Ask Me Now is complemented by shadowy, elongated voice and cello phrases, culminating in ‘symphonic’ torrents as the piano’s precipitation gently ceases.

Improvisation such as this requires a listener’s total participation… which I find endlessly mind-expanding and rewarding. Music of pure imagination to ‘take us outside’, What? feels like this label’s most absorbing collaboration to date.

Released on 31 March 2020 and available as digital download or limited edition CD at Bandcamp.


Charlie Beresford
 acoustic guitar
Gerry Gold trumpet, flugelhorn
Sonia Hammond cello
Rod Paton piano, French horn, melodica, voice

the52nd.com
beresfordhammond.com

The 52nd – 52NDCD007 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Stillefelt’ – Stillefelt

IN THE STILLNESS of the night, this is an enthralling place to inhabit.

Stillefelt (translated from Norwegian as ‘quiet field’) is the eponymous debut release from improvising trio Chris Mapp, Percy Pursglove and Thomas Seminar Ford; and their ‘nattmusikk’ drew an immediate, emotional reaction at a late hour… and then called me back to listen more deeply.

Misty, often brooding landscapes are created from the relative simplicity of electric bass, trumpet/flugelhorn and electric guitar – but the digital manipulation of these otherwise traditional tones expands the creativity in a subdued wonder reminiscent of e.s.t.’s final studio experiments (Leucocyte and 301). The album’s progression – in six tracks, named perhaps for distinction only – has the remarkable, continuous effect of eliciting sometimes indeterminate feelings. But, warm or cold, they arrive. So, in a quiet space, the music can become personal to the listener; and that, in essence, is the profound alchemy of improvisation. 

From the thriving Birmingham jazz scene, Stillefelt is described as a ‘dynamically quieter response’ to Mapp’s band, Gonimoblast (which features vocalist Maja SK Ratkje and trumpeter Arve Henriksen). Their explorations are prompted by ‘short cell-like ideas’ from the bassist, provided simply as starting points; so, in live performance, the landscape is ever-changing. Ostinati and riffs might suggest the root of each piece, but it’s their complete evolutionary and immersive nature which stands so effectively.

While nocturnal imagery is tangible through the album, slowly stirring aubade, opening, paints a springlike awakening through sustained guitar layers and breathy trumpet; and Pursglove’s mouthpiece sputters combine with radio-wave electronics to widen what seems like a heat-hazy portrayal of nature. Mapp’s bass regularly provides an effective (sometimes chordal) foundation, and the initial hint of Scandinavian folksong in a kind of day is tinged with an ominous, hollow jarring which becomes more urgent.

This sound world cleverly adopts a ‘three-dimensionality’ akin to photographic depth of field. The industrial hisses, gargles, squawks and whistles of expansive towards a rusty future can be unsettling, set against a subliminal ticking metre. But segueing into the more saturated quiet field, Mapp’s muted, pulsating bass takes the trio towards a hopeful horizon. Pursglove’s tone is now cleaner as it melds into half life, where open guitar, bass and skywards electronics create an otherworldly beauty only interrupted by the opening, free-jazz clamour of never…ending – until tentative calm is restored.

It’s an environment of invention and discovery; a broad canvas over which we might wander through our own imagination – and all sparked by this spontaneous artistry. A magical thing. 

Recorded live at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Stillefelt is released on 3 April and available as a limited edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

Video promo.

 

Chris Mapp bass, electronics
Percy Pursglove trumpet, flugelhorn 
Thomas Seminar Ford guitar, electronics

Visual art / sleeve design: Tom Tebby

chrismapp.co.uk/stillefelt

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1883 (2020)