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)

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‘Cwmwl Tystion / Witness’ – Cwmwl Tystion / Witness
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‘Hon’ – Huw V Williams

Hon

This…… THIIIIIIISSSS [waves CD sleeve]…… is worth your attention!

Hon (the Welsh translation of ‘This’, inspired by a somewhat abrasive poem of the same name by T H Parry-Williams) is the striking debut album from double bassist and composer Huw V Williams; a contemporary jazz release whose brash delivery and left-field instrumental sparkle catches the ear and won’t let go.

Hailing from Bangor, North Wales (on the beautiful Menai Straits), and a 2012 graduate of the Royal Welsh Academy of Music and Drama (first class honours), Williams relocated to London to embark on his career. And now, teaming up with the irrepressible jazz energy of Laura Jurd (trumpet), Alam Nathoo (tenor sax), Elliot Galvin (accordion, piano) and Pete Ibbetson (drums), the bassist unleashes a quintet recording of original material defined by unfettered invention and clamorous beauty. In fact, he declares his enthusiasm for this music, describing it as emanating from “the mixing pot of all your history, so this is just as much about a teenage rock phase in North Wales as a mid-twenties free jazz phase in London.”

Recorded on the periphery of Snowdonia, the eight studio tracks of Hon transmit a certain wild freedom. From the crackle of Skardu’s Missing, with its mischievous trumpet and tenor phrases and dissonant shards of prepared piano, to 06/01/14‘s anarchic, undulating bass landscape (almost electric in its execution), there are surprises around each corner (including elephantine shrieks from Jurd’s bell and typically boisterous, percussive crashes from Pete Ibbetson). Elliot Galvin’s individualistic piano imprint on the UK jazz scene has been a breath of fresh air; yet it’s that same oblique approach to accordion, here, which colours this line-up so differently, offering glissandi, sustained chordal meshes and impertinent solo lines throughout fast-walking-bass Slumps.

Rotten Apple Boughs‘ trumpet-and-accordion melancholy (almost New Orleansean, at times, in its inebriated, flutter-tongued abandon) is perpetuated by dark-clouded unrestraint in the form of jangling percussion, intense bass and mysterious accordion; and retro-detective soundtrack Mugs babbles its way through a relatively simple motif, the solid rock propulsion crescendoing up through saturated waves of wonderful, tenor-screeching mayhem. The deeply-beaten groove of title track Hon is cleverly built out of Williams’ intertwined electronic crackling and harmonic arco bell peals, opening into a rollicking episode which pulsates with horns and tremulant Hammond; and it’s to be hoped that the disembodied clunks and scrapes of Retrogressive Shredfest – five minutes stuffed full of fascinating, unpredictable shocks – don’t turn up on your iPod Shuffle as you walk the Llanberis Pass after dark!

Bonus trio track, Glyn – an 11-minute live recording from Brecon Jazz Festival (video here) – features acclaimed North Wales pianist/composer and Williams’ longtime mentor Huw Warren (also producer of this album). With Jim Black’s impressive density at the drums, it’s a smouldering, building anthem which showcases the bassist’s particularly resonant, improvisational technique – and a towering conclusion to a box of continually unfurling delights.

Released on the Chaos Collective label on 26 February 2016, Hon is available as CD or high quality download at Bandcamp.

 

Huw V Williams double bass
Laura Jurd trumpet
Alam Nathoo tenor saxophone
Elliot Galvin accordion, piano
Peter Ibbetson drums
with
Huw Warren piano (bonus track)
Jim Black drums (bonus track)

huwvwilliams.com

Chaos Collective – CC005 (2016)