‘Nocturnes and Visions’ – Huw Warren

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THE PIANISTIC VOICE of Huw Warren has, over the years, been a source of joy. His discography alone points to an exploratory spirit whose expertise in coalescing jazz, classical and world music has illuminated so many projects – from Perfect Houseplants and Quercus to his own solo outings and ensembles, and as a major contributor to albums by June Tabor, Maria Pia de Vito and Christine Tobin. So when this particularly intimate and personal recording was first mooted, many months ago, its ‘wait in the wings’ was monitored with keen anticipation. 

Recorded in the Cardiff University Concert Hall, most of this album’s twelve pieces are Warren’s own compositions and, as such, might easily portray the mercurial beauty of his beloved North West Wales environs – steep, harshly angular slate panoramas of quarries contrasting with sparkling lynns which quietly nestle between soaring green valleys. Yet, typically, there are also infusions of South American vivacity, as well as English pastorale/salon music, flashes of prog rock and a reverence for J S Bach, with the feeling that it’ll take some, very enjoyable time to delve into all of their fine details.

In fact, it’s finesse which is the hallmark of Warren’s varied musical expressions, whatever the tempo. Hermeto Pascoal’s O Farol Que Nos Guia is lavished with both a grandeur and a lyricism which flows like a mountain stream, whilst Brazilian dance is celebrated in his own Against the Odds, full of memorable, ornamented melodies and leaping cacuriá-style rhythms. The pianist’s intriguing titles ( à la ‘Hundreds of Things a Boy Can Make’) continue with The Book of Strange New Things, a lush, mystical interlude leading to EE whose light-hearted elegance suggests Sir Edward Elgar’s cycling jaunts across the Malvern Hills – somehow Huw Warren’s chromatic melodies capture the essence of the composer’s genteel miniatures, but with a nod to his great symphonic works. And a six-minute interpretation of Bach’s Prelude No. 8 in E flat minor (BWV 853) (also recalling the Modern Jazz Quartet’s impression of the same) finds Warren romantically colouring each twilight line whilst teasing out those spine-tingling falling-bass phrases.

Brief, scree-sliding adventure Onwards and Sideways is reminiscent of both Ginastera and Keith Emerson; Dinorwig Dreams references the huge former quarry in Warren’s locale with bright, bustling activity and then quieter reflections of its past; and impressively darting tango, The Bulgarian Stretch, is a stand-out maelstrom of whirling high lines and Bachian glints. Rolling Fernhill feels like a jazz piano classic from a distant memory, its beautiful dancing tune complemented by lush, sunlit chords. There are two tender tributes – Up There (for much-missed pianist John Taylor) and Pure (dedicated to Warren’s brother-in-law), whilst, across eight minutes, the emotional rubato of Noturna (by Brazilian guitarist/composer, Guinga) is exquisitely felt – and received.

The title Nocturnes and Visions is spot on. Interpret these 53 minutes as a private piano performance to savour, to take to your heart… to imagine your own, individual landscapes. And I absolutely recommend the view.

Released on CD on 26 March 2018, as well as a digital download, and available from Bandcamp.

 

Huw Warren piano

huwwarren.co.uk

Maizeh Music – MM1805 (2018)

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‘Guris’ – Jovino Santos Neto & André Mehmari, with Hermeto Pascoal

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SUCH INFECTIOUS JOY flows from this exhilarating duo release from Brazilian pianists Jovino Santos Neto and André Mehmari as they celebrate the uniqueness of – and invite as guest – influential composer and musician Hermeto Pascoal on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

Recorded at André Mehmari’s capacious new studio in the hills above São Paulo, the thirteen tracks of Guris were, quite astoundingly, captured over two days without rehearsal; spontaneous interpretations of selections mostly garnered from Pascoal’s prolific output. Indeed, the apparent warmth of the experience is expressed through the opening lines of the album’s sleeve notes: ‘This music contains raindrops falling in the forest, laughter, delicious food and coffee, reverence for a true musical master, instant discovery of an ancient friendship, one hundred and seventy-six keys, two pianos joined together…”

There’s always a risk that head-to-head piano collaborations might become endlessly bombastic or over-saturated. But, across these sixty-seven minutes, Santos Neto and Mehmari become one, elegantly balancing fervour, delicacy and space so that their creativity becomes intertwined – so much so that even the players themselves are unable to separate their own voices in these resulting, amiable conversations in music! And the soundscapes are beautifully varied, enhanced by melodica, flute, harmonium, Fender Rhodes and bandolim.

A sunshiny, South American vibe is instantly recognisable – from the animated, melodic swagger of Pascoal’s Samba Do Belaqua to Santos Neto’s own Tambô d’Oshó, crammed with syncopated chordal verve, impossibly crossing triplets and rippling improvisations. But then, as dappled light through the treetops, Bailando Com Cerveja‘s Bachian openness charms, as does affecting slow piano waltz Certeza (Certainty), the emotional weight of Santos Neto’s melodica perhaps channelling Joe Zawinul (this piece written upon the realisation of Jaco Pastorius’ passing). And both pianists pictorialise so well a gradual avian migration in Andorinhas (Swallows), their abstract chatterings becoming more elongated and structured towards distant horizons.

The resonant, breathy flute of Santos Neto is a feature of André Mehmari’s romantic Baião Da Sorte – a joyous, theme-tune-like outing of memorable phrases and delightful interplay; and the composer’s crisp bandolim tones in Pro Hermeto (written and dedicated to the great man by a fourteen-year-old Mehmari) are complemented by Santos Neto’s chromatic flourishes. The pianists’ intuitive, shared response to two of Pascoal’s festal pieces, Dois Santos and Jorge E Antonio, is breathtakingly magical (stand-outs, if one could choose); and Acordando Com Os Acordes‘ brash, symphonic origins (with shades of Bartók) are superbly and angularly realised.

In wistful harmonium tune Igrejinha (Little Church) and impetuous baião Jovino Em Realengo, Hermeto Pascoal’s eccentric croonings, sputterings and gurglings through a water-filled kettle are unexpected, yet they somehow confirm the affectionate and adventurous bond between these musicians; and an unstoppable, scurrying Fender Rhodes momentum in title track Guris (Boys) captures the unquenchable spirit of Pascoal (Hermeto’s own melodica solo in Aquela Valsa is also typically effusive!).

There are so many treasures which can unfold from this absorbing session as it finds its way to your heart; and personally speaking, it currently seems to be lodged right there.

Released on 21 July 2017, and beautifully presented as a CD with background notes to each track, Guris is available from Amazon and other retailers.

 

Jovino Santos Neto piano, melodica, flute
André Mehmari piano, harmonium, Fender Rhodes, bandolim
with special guest
Hermeto Pascoal teakettle, melodica

jovisan.net

Adventure Music – AM11082 (2017)