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)

RECENT LISTENING: March 2021

‘One From Brooklyn’ – Matt Clark Three
Matt Clark, Mark Wilson, Darren Beckett
Release date: 2 April 2021
mattclarkthree.bandcamp.com

‘The Road to Kennacraig’ – Karen Marshalsay
Karen Marshalsay – solo wire-strung clarsach, bray harp, gut-strung harp, boxwood D whistle
Release date: 15 July 2019
karenmarshalsay.bandcamp.com

‘Cwmwl Tystion / Witness’ – Cwmwl Tystion / Witness
Tomos Williams, Rhodri Davies, Francesca Simmons, Huw Warren, Huw V Williams, Mark O’Connor
Release date: 5 March 2021
tycerddshop.com / iTunes

‘The New Cool’ – David Helbock
David Helbock, Sebastian Studnitzky, Arne Jansen
Release date: 26 March 2021
actmusic.com/en/Artists/David-Helbock

‘SOLOW – Tommy Smith
Tommy Smith – solo, multi-tracked tenor saxophone
Release date: 27 February 2021
tommysmithsaxophonist.bandcamp.com

‘Intrusion’ – Machine Mass Sextet
Michel Delville, Tony Bianco, Antoine Guenet, Laurent Blondiau, Manuel Hermia, Damien Campion
Release date: 19 February 2021
moonjune.bandcamp.com

RECENT LISTENING: April 2020 (3)

Another Kind of Soul – Tony Kofi
Tony Kofi, Andy Davies, Alex Webb, Andrew Cleyndert, Alfonso Vitale
Release date: 24 April 2020 (The Last Music Company)
lastmusic.co.uk / propermusic.com / amazon.co.uk

Configuration – John Law’s Congregation
John Law, James Mainwaring, Ashley John Long, Billy Weir, Jasper Law
Release date: 1 May 2020 (Ubuntu Music)
www.amazon.co.uk / music.apple.com

Totem – Ferdinando Romano
Ralph Alessi, Tommaso Iacoviello, Simone Alessandrini, Nazareno Caputo, Manuel Magrini, Ferdinando Romano, Giovanni Paolo Liguori
Release date: 24 April 2020 (Losen Records)
ferdinandoromano.bandcamp.com

A Million Conversations – Rachel Sutton
Rachel Sutton, Roland Perrin, Michael Curtis Ruiz, Paul Robinson, Stuart Brooks
Release date: 13 January 2020 (33Jazz Records)
rachelsuttonmusic.com / 33jazz.com / music.apple.com

Music of our Times – Gary Husband & Markus Reuter
Gary Husband, Markus Reuter
Release date: 26 March 2020 (MoonJune Records)
markus-reuter-moonjune.bandcamp.com

Live at Ucheldre – Huw Warren
Huw Warren – solo piano
Release date: 10 April 2020
huwwarren.bandcamp.com

TOP 12 OF 2019

HOW DOES ONE BEGIN to compile a ‘best of year’ list from the wealth and diversity of new releases out there?! Well, appreciation of music is, of course, entirely subjective. But during 2019, amongst all of the jazz and jazz-related albums I have written for or about, or have been privileged to simply receive an invitation to hear, these twelve (in no particular order) have been revisited the most frequently. All are heartily recommended, with info/links below. 

Here’s to a great new year – and decade – of musical discovery!

🎹 AP

Fred Hersch & The WDR Big Band – Begin Again
Fred Hersch, The WDR Big Band, arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza
Release date: 7 June 2019 (Palmetto Records)
Available from: propermusic.com/fredhersch/beginagain

Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio – Finding Home
Kate Williams, Georgia Mancio, John Garner, Marie Schreer, Francis Gallagher, Sergio Serra, Oli Hayhurst, David Ingamells, John Williams
Release date: 1 June 2019 (KW Jazz)
Review: ap-reviews.com/findinghome
Available from: katewilliams.bandcamp.com/findinghome or georgiamancio.com/findinghome

Ingi Bjarni – Tenging
Ingi Bjarni Skúlason, Jakob Eri Myhre, Merje Kägu, Daniel Andersson, Tore Ljøkelsøy
Release date: 30 August 2019 (Losen Records)
Available from: losenrecords.no/tenging

Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade – Trilogy 2
Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade
Release date: 18 October 2019 (Concord Jazz)
Available from: propermusic.com/chickcorea/trilogy2

Rymden Reflections & Odysseys
Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund, Magnus Öström
Release date: 8 February 2019 (Jazzland Records)
Review: ap-reviews.com/rymden
Available from: rymden3.bandcamp.com/reflections&odysseys

Mark Lockheart and Roger Sayer – Salvator Mundi
Mark Lockheart, Roger Sayer
Release date: 5 July 2019 (Edition Records)
Review: ap-reviews.com/salvatormundi
Available from: marklockheart.bandcamp.com/salvatormundi

Michael Janisch – Worlds Collide
Michael Janisch, Jason Palmer, John O’Gallagher, Rez Abbasi, Clarence Penn
with John Escreet, George Crowley, Andrew Bain

Release date: 6 September 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
Available from: michaeljanisch.bandcamp.com/worldscollide

Saxophone Summit – Street Talk
Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, Billy Hart, Phil Markowitz, Cecil McBee
Release date: 4 October 2019 (Enja Records)
Review: ap-reviews.com/streettalk
Available from: propermusic.com/streettalk

Trish Clowes – Ninety Degrees Gravity
Trish Clowes, Chris Montague, Ross Stanley, James Maddren
Release date: 26 April 2019 (Basho Records)
Available from: bashorecords.com/ninetydegreesgravity

Scott Kinsey – We Speak Luniwaz (The music of Joe Zawinul)
Scott Kinsey, Katise Buckingham, Hadrien Feraud, Gergo Borlai with Bobby Thomas Jr, Arto Tunçboyaciyan, Steve Tavaglione, Jimmy Haslip, Michael Baker, Danny Carey, Cyril Atef, Brad Dutz, Naina Kundu
Release date: 25 October 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
Available from: scott-kinsey.bandcamp.com/wespeakluniwaz

Huw Warren Trio – Everything In Between
Huw Warren, Dudley Phillips, Zoot Warren
Release date: 15 March 2019 (CAM JAZZ)
Review: ap-reviews.com/everythinginbetween
Available from: camjazz.com/everythinginbetween

e.s.t. – e.s.t. live in Gothenburg
Esbjörn Svensson, Dan Berglund, Magnus Öström
Release date: 25 October 2019 (ACT Music)
Review: ap-reviews.com/estliveingothenburg
Available from: actmusic.com/estliveingothenburg

RECENT LISTENING: September 2019 (2)

Saxophone Summit – Street Talk
Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, Billy Hart, Phil Markowitz, Cecil McBee
Release date: 4 October 2019 (Enja Records)
propermusic.com/catalog/product/view/id/93844/s/enja97692-saxophone-summit-street-talk/

Mike De Souza – Slowburn
Mike De Souza, Huw V Williams, Jay Davis
Release date: 17 October 2019
mikedesouzatrio.bandcamp.com/album/slow-burn

Crosscurrents Trio – Good Hope
Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter
Release date: 11 October 2019 (Edition Records)
crosscurrentstrio.bandcamp.com/album/good-hope

Abdullah Ibrahim – Dream Time
Abullah Ibrahim – solo piano
Release date: 27 September (Enja Records)
propermusic.com/enj96762_dream_time

Sue Rynhart, featuring Huw Warren – We Are on Time (Flower Seeds) (single)
Sue Rynhart, Huw Warren
Release date: 23 June 2019
suerynhart.comApple Music / Amazon

Natacha Atlas – Strange Days
Natacha Atlas, Samy Bishai, Hayden Powell, Robinson Khoury, Alcyona Mick, Andy Hamill, Asaf Sirkis, Laurie Lowe + guests
Release date: 4 October 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
natachaatlas1.bandcamp.com/album/strange-days

RECENT LISTENING: June 2019 (2)

Huw Warren & Mark Lockheart – New Day (live at Livio Felluga Winery)
Huw Warren, Mark Lockheart
Release date: 24 May 2019 (CamJazz)
camjazz.com

Abdullah Ibrahim – The Balance
Abdullah Ibrahim, Noah Jackson, Alec Dankworth, Will Terrill, Adam Glasser, Cleave Guyton Jr, Lance Bryant, Andrae Murchison, Marshall McDonald
Release date: 28 June 2019 (Gearbox Records)
abdullahibrahim.bandcamp

Joshua Espinoza Trio – Journey Into Night
Joshua Espinoza, Mikel Combs, Jaron Lamar Davis
Release date: 14 June 2019
joshuaespinoza.com

Alexi Tuomarila Trio (featuring Verneri Pohjola) – Sphere
Alexi Tuomarila, Mats Eilertsen, Olavi Louhivuori, with Verneri Pohjola
Release date: 28 May 2019 (Edition Records)
alexituomarilatrio.bandcamp

Yazz Ahmed – A Shoal of Souls (single*)
Yazz Ahmed, George Crowley, Samuel Hällkvist, Ralph Wyld, Naadia Sheriff, Dudley Phillips, Corrina Silvester, Martin France
Release date: 5 June 2019 (IXCHEL Records / Bandcamp)
yazzahmed.bandcamp
(*the ‘final chapter’ of album La Saboteuse. New album, Polyhymnia, releases in October 2019)

Sean Foran & Stuart McCallum – Counterpart
Sean Foran, Stuart McCallum
Release date: 21 June 2019 (Naim Records)
seanforanstuartmccallum.bandcamp