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: ‘People Flow’ – Erik Verwey Trio

A DEBUT ALBUM to lift the spirits, Dutch pianist Erik Verwey’s People Flow most certainly has feel-good and interest at its heart.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 4 December 2020 and available from Erik Verwey’s website.

 

Erik Verwey piano
Hendrik Müller bass
Daniel van Dalen drums
featuring
Teus Nobel flugelhorn
Bart Wirtz saxophone

Artwork by Helia Toledo

erik-verwey.squarespace.com

Promo video

Supported by Sena Muziekproductiefonds – Dutch Performers House

Self-released (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Christmas With My Friends VII’ – Nils Landgren

NO ONE could have imagined, when this project first began in a Swedish medieval church in December 2005, what a poignancy its title would bring some fifteen years later. For alongside the observance and festivity of the Christmas season, this year we may also be remembering those lost to a global pandemic, as well as family and friends with whom we cannot yet get together. But amidst all of this, Nils Landgren and colleagues have chosen to continue their reassuringly familiar and easy-going brand of schmaltz, tenderness, joy and reflection in Christmas With My Friends VII.

Following the previous six volumes (including IV and V), Landgren is again joined by singers Sharon Dyall, Jeanette Köhn and Jessica Pilnäs, while Ida Sand (vocals, piano), Jonas Knutsson (saxophones), Eva Kruse (bass) and Johan Norberg (guitar, mandolin) provide the distinctive ambient glow. At the suggestion of ACT Music label owner Siggi Loch, the trombonist and vocalist has cast the net wider in terms of garnering fourteen songs from around the world, their listed countries of origin connecting us through the best and, indeed, the worst of times.

Credited with shaping the album’s eclectic sequence, Swedish guitarist Johan Norberg provides acapella introduction This Christmas, whose theme of joy and hope is continued in Comin’ Home For Christmas, Jonas Knutsson’s soprano sax embellishing its easy pop/folk groove. Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria is given a balladic, almost 1950s rock‘n’roll lilt through its vocal harmonies and Landgren’s signature trombone smoothness; and traditional Irish carol This Endris Night is bathed in gentle, shimmering light.

The predictable melody and chord sequence of Russian song The Forest Raised A Christmas Tree, in this arrangement, has a whiff of soft American folk/rock; but forgettable US soul/pop tune Just Another Christmas Song feels a touch too shallow for this collection, a ‘cheeseboard’ crammed with as many festive song lines or titles as possible! Back on track, delicate Polish lullaby of the nativity, Gdy süliczna Panna, has far greater charm, particularly for its memorable chorus; and in a swift change of mood, joyful, harmonized South African chant Sizalelwe Indodana (Unto Us A Son Is Born) features a delightful baritone sax and trombone break.

Sweet Was the Song begins a sequence of candlelit intimacy that harks back to the project’s humble but special beginnings – there’s something so wonderfully spatial about the blend of instrumentation and vocalisation in these pieces. For example, Ingibjörg Þorbergs’ simple Icelandic tune Hin fyrstu jól (The First Christmas) is attractively stated then improvised upon by a gallery quartet of mandolin, double bass, soprano sax and trombone; and Benjamin Britten’s processional Hodie Christus (from ‘A Ceremony of Carols’) becomes exalted through an expectant, sky-filled plainchant-and-horn annunciation – a beautiful, crisp atmosphere.

This sense of tradition continues in tender Finnish carol Sylvian Joululaulu – Knutsson’s soft, subtly gruff sax tone is always a pleasure to hear, complementing the clear vocal. En förtvivlad vän offers a similar aura of calm before the concluding ensemble greeting of José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad is extended with gentle, fireside warmth.

Christmas 2020’s celebrations will need some alternative imagination on our part. But the unswerving feel-good of Nils Landgren and friends this yuletide, and in years to come, offers us some semblance of peace and cheer. ‘Gud välsigna oss alla’.

Released on 10 October 2020 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.

 

Nils Landgren trombone, vocals
Sharon Dyall vocals
Jonas Knutsson saxophones
Jeanette Köhn vocals
Eva Kruse bass
Jessica Pilnäs vocals
Ida Sand vocals, piano
Johan Norberg guitar, mandolin

nilslandgren.com

ACT Music – ACT 9916-2 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Yorkshire Suite’ – James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

THE PREMISE of this live recording is heartwarming, and should be to anyone with an interest in the continuation of the British big band jazz scene.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 7 December 2020 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

 

Mark Ellis, Cat Miles, Matt Anderson, Will Howard, Rob Mitchell saxophones
Gareth Smith, Simon Dennis, Kim Macari, Simon Beddoe trumpets
Matt Ball, Stuart Garside, Tom l’anson, Chris Dale trombones
Harry Orme guitar
Aron Kyne
piano
John Marley bass
Steve Hanley drums

James Hamilton conductor, composer

Commissioned by Jazz Yorkshire
Recorded live at Seven Arts, Leeds, 31 May 2015
Mixed and mastered by James Hamilton, 2020

newjazzrecords.co.uk

New Jazz Records (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Momento’ – Dave Milligan

I SOMETIMES WONDER if ‘charm’ – that genteel expression of beauty that can often be lacking in our present age – is at risk of becoming consigned to the ‘lost words’ chest. But, for all the right reasons, Dave Milligan’s delightful new piano trio album, Momento, with double bassist Danilo Gallo and drummer U.T. Gandhi, has enchanted me endlessly over the last few weeks… to the point of not being able to leave it alone!

The Scottish pianist’s career, across the last decade or so, has seen him focus on projects with artists including Scott Hamilton, Trilok Gurtu, Colin Steele and Karine Polwart; and, as musical supervisor, he collaborated with Mark Knopfler on the stage adaptation of Local Hero. So the finalisation of this first album as leader since 2008 only gained impetus due to the artistic hiatus created by the Coronavirus pandemic. The recording of these seven tracks – part of a longer session captured with typical clarity by Stefano Amerio at Italian studio Artesuono – actually goes back to 2015.

It’s a great mix. Going Nowhere, one of Milligan’s five original pieces here, was written down in a departure lounge between flights; and described as a ‘sketch’ which didn’t request a specific melody, its quiet, Escher-like progression evokes resonances of Tord Gustavsen. With similar opening delicacy, (There’s) Always Tomorrow – from a suite inspired by letters between Robert Burns and Agnes McLehose, and reduced from big band arrangement to trio intimacy – increasingly coruscates with lively pianistic improv and cymbal flashes, while They Said It Was About You (‘For Ella’) actually displays a precise, Italianate piano charisma akin to Giovanni Guidi, buoyed by Gallo’s prominent bass colorations.

Dave Milligan’s national roots are represented by dancing Parcel of Rogues (trad., first printed in 1792) and evocative, north-of-the-border Freedom (John McLellan, 1875–1949), whose marching origins (not without a hint of ‘Loch Lomond) are cleverly refashioned with lush, ebullient chordal rhythms and percussive momentum. Quietly affecting piano solo Sandy’s 70th easily brings to mind Erik Satie’s ‘Gymnopédies’ – but perhaps more so, the moving serenity of the adagio from Ravel‘s Piano Concerto – in a particularly elegant birthday tribute ‘For Dad’. Finally, inspired by a tune from a book of collected fiddle music, Milligan’s Made In The Border features sternly-planted ‘riffs’ and a ‘Scotch snap’ folk melody (Gallo in whimsical Arild Andersen mode) before Gandhi swells its arresting, extended race to the finish.

After a few cycles of listening, at around the midpoint of these 43 minutes came the realisation that I had discovered what can only be described as the heart of the recording. In that moment, the overall flow of the pieces fell into place, shedding a brighter light on the whole – and therein, the spell was smilingly cast. A word of caution, though – do not attempt to sample or listen to this fine album on a ‘tin box’ (ie smartphone speaker), otherwise its musical richness is likely to be obscured. 13 tracks remain ‘in the can’, so rumours of more seeing the light of day are keenly anticipated.

Initially released in digital format on 28 August 2020 (though a physical CD release is also indicated for perhaps later this year, complete with Milligan’s background notes), Momento is available from Bandcamp and Amazon.

Video: (There’s) Always Tomorrow

 

Dave Milligan piano
Danilo Gallo double bass
U.T. Gandhi drums

davemilligan.co.uk

Big Bash Records – BBRCD018 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘The Fire Still Burns’ – Alan Braufman

THE RAW ENERGY across this quintet/sextet recording is on another level!

When the promo informed that it’s Brooklyn-born saxophonist and flautist Alan Braufman’s first album recording for 45 years – since Valley of Search, his 1975 debut with pianist Cooper-Moore – The Fire Still Burns just demanded to be heard… and it doesn’t disappoint. A man with a jazz story or five (seeing Sun Ra and Coltrane in the 1960s, playing in Carla Bley’s band, etc.), his curious blend of original, blithe, accessible tunes and fiery free jazz is driven with gusto, throughout, by drummer Andrew Drury, while the approach of Braufman and the rest of his team is similarly impassioned.

Listen to the segued contrast between sunshiny, flute-ornamented Morning Bazaar and screeching, uproarious No Floor No Ceiling to understand the range. Dual-horn strength and the leader’s own, blistering soloing matches Cooper-Moore’s strong piano foundation in Home, while the romantic soulfulness of Alone Again (easily imaginable with a lyric) still maintains an appealing hard edge, as does the impressively hard-blown title track with Braufman, again, giving it everything on sax. The township-style prelude to City Nights – with fabulously solid, shuffling groove – heralds neat arco-bass harmonics from Ken Filiano as the whole, unfolding climax becomes irresistible (and I could happily enjoy another couple of minutes of Michael Wimberly’s lively, closing percussion!). That’s the vibe to discover.

With eight tracks averaging around four and a half minutes each, it would be easy to feel short-changed on album length; but the breathless invention of it all – melodic or wildly improvised – dispels that notion, delivering huge satisfaction.

Released on 28 August 2020 in LP, CD and digital formats at Bandcamp (view the trailer).

 

Alan Braufman alto saxophone, flute
Cooper-Moore piano
James Brandon Lewis tenor saxophone
Ken Filiano bass
Andrew Drury drums
with
Michael Wimberly percussion (tracks 2 & 8)

alanbraufman.com

(2020)