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
Maizeh Music – MM1805 (2018)