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)

‘Wolf Valley’ – Eyolf Dale

EyolfDale

EDITION RECORDS’ impressive relationship with Scandinavian and other European artists, forged over the past few years, continues with pianist and composer Eyolf Dale’s Wolf Valley.

Having previously released a handful of solo albums in his native Norway, as well as appearing as sideman on many recordings (including tubist Daniel Herskedal’s Slow Eastbound Train), Dale’s compositional expertise is brought to life here by broader forces – a colourful and adaptable octet of piano, bass and saw, drums, tenor sax and clarinet, trumpet, trombone, vibraphone and violin. Greatly influenced by classical music, jazz, improvisation – and, most likely, the folksongs and landscapes of his homeland – the pianist’s eclectic output is distinct in its compositional spaciousness and instrumental diversity. Within such a spirit of invention, numerous musical boundaries are traversed, providing so many rich discoveries along the way.

Dale’s scaleable and constantly fluctuating episodes – one moment ‘big band’, then ‘chamber orchestra’ or ‘minimal atmospheric’ – are the key to these nine generous tracks. For example, gentle horn grooves in opener Furet are embellished by coruscating vibes and bluesy piano; and all at once the mood drifts into the cinematic longing of Fernanda, whose attractive, flowing undercurrent is elaborated upon by lyrical clarinet and violin, swelled by Dale’s beautiful eight-piece orchestration. Based on a previously-recorded improvised organ chorale, Shostachoral‘s sustained progress, featuring André Roligheten’s gruff, melancholic tenor, is reminiscent of John Surman or Jan Garbarek; and Ban Joe‘s folksy animation (cannily resembling a banjo accompaniment) pauses delicately amongst vibraphone ripples before breaking into exuberant piano jazz – but stay focused… this musical journey keeps moving on!

Combining funereal, New Orleans-style marching band with a weighty, prepared-piano bass pulse, Sideways restlessly portrays its themes of loss, adding classy solo trombone and trumpet improvisations, whilst Tegistein‘s empty, industrial landscape of sinuous screeches and echoes grabs the attention. The Creek‘s playfully clattering groove is another standout, full of dancing piano riffs, syncopated horns, languid jazz trumpet, audaciously fluttering tenor and delicate vibes-decorated textures (so much to enjoy); the quiet, slowly unfolding solitude of Silent Ways, complete with wavering saw, is oh so delicate; and fast-paced The Walk sparkles brightly, thanks to ticking percussion and a sumptuous octet arrangement.

Eyolf Dale and his accomplished personnel breathe so much into this vast panoply of creative ideas, presenting a recording which is a pleasure to delve into more and more deeply – and it’s bound to remain a favourite for some considerable time. Thank goodness for our resolute, European, musical connections.

Released on 10 June 2016, Wolf Valley (direct translation: Eyolf = Wolf, Dale = Valley) is available as CD and high-quality download at Bandcamp.

Video: Furet.

 

Eyolf Dale piano
Per Zanussi bass, saw
Gard Nilssen drums
André Roligheten tenor saxophone, clarinet
Hayden Powell trumpet
Kristoffer Kompen trombone
Rob Waring vibraphone
Adrian Løseth Waade violin

eyolfdale.com

Edition Records – EDN1073 (2016)