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)

REVIEW: ‘The New Cool’ – David Helbock

DAVID HELBOCK is clearly a guy who is difficult to pigeonhole, his Random Control Trio project, for example, often involving a complex array of instruments on stage to present his own music and almost comedic reinterpretations at the edge of unpredictability.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 26 March 2021 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.

 

David Helbock piano
Sebastian Studnitzky trumpet
Arne Jansen guitar

Cover art: Violet Blue Monk – Ugo Rondinone, painted cast bronze, 2020

davidhelbock.com

ACT Music – 9927-2 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Uma Elmo’ – Jakob Bro, Arve Henriksen, Jorge Rossy

SLOW-BURNING, ruminative, even introspective, Uma Elmo is an intriguing new collaboration between electric guitarist Jakob Bro, trumpeter Arve Henriksen and drummer Jorge Rossy.

Danish-born Bro’s original compositions are true to the elevated spirit of ECM Records, this being his fifth album as leader for the label. Recorded in the late summer of 2020, when the increasing tremors of a virus-torn world had already begun to shake the foundations of artists’ livelihoods, this esteemed trio entered the studio with respected engineer Stefano Amerio to produce an hour of both abstract and melodic sounds which, Bro says, reflect (as always) what is going on around them. The album title doesn’t require translation – it’s simply derived from the middle names of the guitarist’s two young children, with much of this music apparently composed around his newborn son’s naps.

The name of Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen is familiar to many through ECM recordings which have included his own Cartography (2008) as well those of Tigran Hamasyan, Trygve Seim and Trio Mediaeval; and Spanish drummer Jorge Rossy has worked with a long catalogue of jazz luminaries such as Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman and Wayne Shorter. Bro himself formerly played in Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band and and was a member of Tomasz Stanko’s Dark Eyes Quintet.

It’s fair to say that these shifting, minimal landscapes won’t realise their potential if only allowed cursory attention. Conscious immersion is key to the listening experience – and then the effect, though low in dynamic or compositional variance, progressively rewarding.

Reconstructing a Dream (previously recorded many years ago with Paul Motian) heralds the focused landscapes the trio inhabit in a shadowy, sustained episode. Reminiscent at times of Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Part 1)’,  it develops texturally and dynamically, Henriksen’s simple improvisations becoming more complex over turbulent drumming and overdriven guitar and electronics. To Stanko, dedicated to the late Polish trumpeter, finds the guitarist’s clear, lapping accompaniment (redolent of ‘Spanish Romance’ – Sor, et al.) wistfully supporting Henriksen’s dry, breathy improvisations; and Rossy’s sparse colouring around the kit is especially effective.

The more one listens, the more the detail emerges. Beautiful Day’s gong-like effects and tunnelled echoes underpin busy percussion as Henriksen’s inquisitive and increasingly agitated lines explore a piece which curiously belies its title. In Morning Song, an aubade of gently burbling electronics and cymbals uplift soft, sunrise trumpet and guitar melodies that attractively rise and then fall to earth (its later variation, though, appears so subtle that a more contrasting take would have been welcome). Across eleven-minute Housework, Arve Henriksen’s effected, rasping trumpet produces low-register impressions reminiscent of the baritone sax of John Surman before its pellucid ‘after the rain’ atmospheres are suffused with heavier, prog-style guitar.

In spacial Music for Black Pigeons (titled by and dedicated to the memory of another of Bro’s musical associates, saxophonist Lee Konitz), Henriksen’s high, muted melodies possess a beguiling vocal quality, their electronically intervallic mystery also suggesting Debussy’s ‘Syrinx’. Sound Flower slowly unfurls to Bro’s calmative, rippling guitar effects, its sense of measured expectation highlighted by cymbal flashes and aspirational trumpet phrases; and Henriksen’s beautiful, melodic falling pairs in Slaraffenland (again associated with Paul Motian) offer a freeform mood of fragile optimism.

Expressing that hope, the quietly persuasive meanderings of Bro, Henriksen and Rossy can be a balm to the soul – if given space and time.

Released on 19 February 2021, Uma Elmo is available from ECM Records and Proper Music.

 

Jakob Bro guitar
Arve Henriksen trumpet, piccolo trumpet
Jorge Rossy drums

jakobbro.com
arvehenriksen.com
jorgerossy.com

ECM Records – ECM 2702 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Human’ – Shai Maestro

THIS ALBUM has already become very special – and it’s taken a while to evaluate why, on each listening, Human continues to play on the senses in such a powerful way.

Israeli pianist Shai Maestro, who recorded four albums with bassist Avishai Cohen’s trio, recently appeared on Ben Wendel’s High Heart (Edition Records, 2020), doubling with Gerald Clayton to create dynamic atmospheres on piano and Fender Rhodes as part of a sextet fronted by Wendel’s tenor sax and the unique voicings of Michael Mayo. This new quartet release, however, with double bassist Jorge Roeder, drummer Ofri Nehemya and trumpeter Philip Dizack finds Maestro returning to the his own chamber project, presenting original music alongside an adroit Duke Ellington reinterpretation.

So what marks it out with such distinction? The acoustic line-up isn’t especially unusual. But this feels so sensational – often quietly so – that it pulses the kind of emotional electricity experienced when hearing a specific contemporary jazz approach for the very first time; and that in itself is a remarkable achievement. Human follows The Dream Thief (ECM, 2018) with Roeder and Nehemya – a recording that presented a pianist whose classical training paved a way to his uniquely restless, oblique yet precise impressionism; and a trio that, through some extraordinary kind of alchemy, considerably elevated the traditional expectation of the format. But now, Dizack adds a significant dimension to Maestro’s work, his seemingly inexhaustible palette of trumpet textures, always beautifully toned, melding immaculately with the original personnel’s established creativity. Here is an ensemble that walks the enigmatic tightrope between precise arrangement and spontaneous improvisation, which feels crucial to the success of these eleven tracks.

Maestro’s intricate ornamentation, across an hour that demands absolute concentration, is exquisite. Following the abstract prelude of Time, waltzing Mystery and Illusions is the first indicator of his chromatic searching, punctuated by beautifully fidgety drum invention, before Dizack matches the piano’s melodic lines and then takes stratospheric flight. In GG, the rapid complexity of these shared piano and trumpet ‘improvisations’ is simply extraordinary, while homey title track Human culminates in a grandeur featuring Dizack’s distinctive, portamento-shaped phrasing. Bristling, explosive The Dream Thief continues the theme of the previous album’s title track. In Hank and Charlie is heard the most graceful, country/gospel-imbued tribute to Maestro‘s heroes, Hank Jones and Charlie Haden – 4:42 of sheer, balladic perfection, right down to the concluding harmonic effect as the piano’s sustain pedal is lifted.

In an imaginative reworking of In a Sentimental Mood (in particular, the Ellington/Coltrane meeting), staccato snippets of the melody are stated over continually bobbing rivulets of accompaniment, with the various strands seamlessly intertwined. Only at its conclusion comes a reverent nod to the original’s legato elegance. Understated Compassion allows Maestro’s vocal expressions to be heard, while They Went War represents futility through repeated snare pattern and mournful trumpet. A simple, falling, Beethovenesque figure is central to Prayer, featuring Nehemya’s fascinating percussive maelstrom; and the meditative Middle-Eastern swirl of Ima once again highlights the pianist’s semitonal finesse.

Shai Maestro describes this music as often arriving in quick bursts of creativity during the stillness of night, and then letting it “just be”, presenting it as a “human effort”. As a listener completing that circle (or square), I extol the beauty, craftsmanship and warmth found in both Human and The Dream Thief – wondrous, attentive recordings that will undoubtedly stay with me for a very long time.

Released on 29 January 2021, Human is available from ECM Records and Proper Music.

 

Shai Maestro piano
Jorge Roeder double bass
Ofri Nehemya drums
Philip Dizack trumpet

shaimaestro.com

ECM Records – ECM 2688 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Afterglow’ – Enrico Pieranunzi & Bert Joris

THOSE CHASING fast-city lights might imply the hard-grooving world of jazz-rock. But look beyond, into the deepening vermilion Afterglow, to find a quite different fusion in this intimate set from the acoustic duo of Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi and Belgian trumpeter/flugelhornist Bert Joris.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 22 January 2021 and available from Challenge Records and Proper Music.

 

Enrico Pieranunzi piano
Bert Joris trumpet, flugelhorn

enricopieranunzi.it
bertjoris.com

Challenge Records – CR73460 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Yorkshire Suite’ – James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

THE PREMISE of this live recording is heartwarming, and should be to anyone with an interest in the continuation of the British big band jazz scene.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 7 December 2020 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

 

Mark Ellis, Cat Miles, Matt Anderson, Will Howard, Rob Mitchell saxophones
Gareth Smith, Simon Dennis, Kim Macari, Simon Beddoe trumpets
Matt Ball, Stuart Garside, Tom l’anson, Chris Dale trombones
Harry Orme guitar
Aron Kyne
piano
John Marley bass
Steve Hanley drums

James Hamilton conductor, composer

Commissioned by Jazz Yorkshire
Recorded live at Seven Arts, Leeds, 31 May 2015
Mixed and mastered by James Hamilton, 2020

newjazzrecords.co.uk

New Jazz Records (2020)