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: ‘Sounding Point’ – Mark Feldman

VIOLIN … FREE JAZZ … isn’t that possibly a touch narrow and ‘out there’ for a 44-minute solo recital? Well, not when the album is in the secure yet exploratory hands and mind of New York-based veteran Mark Feldman.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on Intakt Records on 12 February 2021 and available at Bandcamp.

 

Mark Feldman solo violin

Mark Feldman on Intakt Records

Intakt Records – Intakt CD 354 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Wait For Me’ – Snowpoet

A PORTAL to aesthetic escapism, the divergent and beautifully efflorescent approach of Snowpoet (vocalist Lauren Kinsella and producer/instrumentalist Chris Hyson) was laid down in an early EP and their eponymous debut album of 2016, followed by 2018’s Thought You Knew.

Now, new release Wait For Me explores ‘the deeper questions of how we love, how we accept our faults and how we let go in a time of profound confusion’, offering ‘protection and solace, advocating openness to adversity and a way to safely navigate great change’. In that vein, perhaps these twelve original songs are more cogitative than before, given the uncertain age in which we presently live – but they’re no less compelling.

Whether you hear Godley & Creme/10cc in multi-layered A Chance To Hear The Rain, Annette Peacock in the ‘spoken singing’ of pop-pulsed The Wheel, or Laurie Anderson in the oblique art of Early Feelings, Kinsella and Hyson have the ability to coax memories of our formative years’ musical experiences, distilling them through their unique brand of genre-defying music and poetry (pop/electronica/jazz might be an opening reference point). There are also songwriter evocations of Joni Mitchell and Björk, with digital grooves and effects that bind the whole with more current influences. Each listen prompts another ripple of emotion – maybe a fleeting, halcyon recollection or even a physical sensation of hypnopompic warmth; and Kinsella’s wordplay may ‘click’, baffle or provide a single line or phrase that feeds the imagination. That’s the artistry – and therein lies the allurement.

Friends from the jazz/creative music world again contribute to the weave, including saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, pianist Matthew Robinson and drummer Dave Hamblett. While the structural foundation of these creations can sometimes be a simple oscillation or riff – as in the folky zephyr of FaceTime or elevated, anthemic Sky Thinking – it’s the blend of Hyson’s synthy atmospheres/arrangements and Kinsella’s distinctive palette of vocal expression and lyricalness that produce the wonder. For example, Roots bustles to her signature clipped soundbites and harmonies over radio-friendly beats, while also featuring Arcoleo’s billowing sax and the nightingale-suggested violin of Alice Zawadzki.

Preceded by Tiers’ industrial, Eno-style smog, With You hints at the electronic bop of Everything Everything, Hyson’s busy production packing much into its four minutes, while sustained fortitude in Here’s the Thing (“… she has a secret, there’s a field, there’s a forest, there’s a river running through her”) maintains a balmy sway. Burn Bright, too, possesses the gossamer weight of earlier Snowpoet, Kinsella’s encouragement (“Can you touch someone’s pain? Burn bright, my love”) supported by improvisatory elegance from Zawadzki and Arcoleo. The gently-accompanied prose of Floating Practice is delightful – just rest and listen; and ticking, nursery-rhyme-like chant Wool, Cotton, Lace & Snow leads out with “sunny days … and warming rays”.

Through word, music and ambience, Snowpoet adeptly build the layers on their canvases, while at times leaving space for our own impressions and emotions. These fifty minutes might simply wash over you, provide an urban soundtrack or become profoundly moving and connective. However you respond, there’s no doubting Snowpoet’s continued mastery.

Released on 19 February 2021 (streaming/download) and 26 March 2021 (worldwide – CD/LP) at Edition Records.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals
Chris Hyson piano, synths
Matthew Robinson piano, synths
Josh Arcoleo saxophone
Dave Hamblett drums (except on With You)
Lloyd Haines drums (on With You)
Alex Haines guitar
Alice Zawadzki violin

snowpoet.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1166 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Le Chat Brel’ – Gabriel Bismut & Maurizio Minardi

RECORDINGS such as The Cook the Clown the Monk and the Accordionist and Piano Ambulance provided a personal introduction to the characterful music of Italian composer, accordionist and pianist Maurizio Minardi, having seen him perform some years ago in London. So it’s no surprise that new album Le Chat Brel – his collaboration with French violinist Gabriel Bismut – has grown into a complete listening delight.

Their entrancingly rounded quartet is completed by guitarist Barthélemy Seyer and double bassist Maurizio Congiu, plus guest harpist Livia Ferrandon-Bescond. Twelve original compositions of Bismut and Minardi – six apiece – are performed with jocose or romantic spirit through an evocative melding of their jazz/folk/baroque sensibilities (European union – stronger together, as so many of us well know). The album title’s feline ‘Brel’ reference links to their appreciation, and sometimes their live interpretations, of the music of Jacques Brel.

While the timbres of violin/alto and accordion have long complemented each other, there’s something inherently natural about the way their own creations are fashioned, right down to details which often reflect the pieces’ titles. So, for example, there’s the impulsive scratch and busyness of MInardi’s Le Coq Baroque, as well as cheery, shuffling Penguin (an irresistible tune from his Cook album, in the mould of The Divine Comedy or, appropriately, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra). The two composers are certainly well-matched. Holiday atmospheres in Bismut’s blithe Persévérence are given a lovely depth by his alto instrument, complemented by Seyer’s lithe guitar improvisations; and Endurance’s sunny, Parisian demeanour steals the heart.

More contemplative numbers such as Fleur Du Hasard and Per I Tuoi 28 Anni sigh with wistful, spatial elegance, their intimacy enhanced by the closeness of this recording. La Brume too, supported by hazy electric guitar textures, feels melancholic as shared violin and accordion melodies evoke illuminated riverside vistas of gently-rippling reflection. And two sumptuous Bismut compositions, Bipolarité and Peau, Neuve – the latter contrasting hymnal quietude with improvisational freedom – are sensitively enhanced by the harp of Livia Ferrandon-Bescond.

But the joyful vigour of this quartet’s interaction is always bound to resurface – firstly in Minardi‘s gypsy-jazz Anastasia, where Bismut’s bluegrass-suggested portamenti gleefully dance over its infectious rhythms; and then in galloping Tulipano Nero, whose anticipatory, Vivaldian drama is summoned by chattering accordion and Danse Macabre-style double-stopping and brash soloing (all brilliant ensemble-playing that has to be heard). As a final curtain call, sneering tango Marcello struts into colorized vaudeville – a great summation of this album’s seductive entertainment.

Le Chat Brel is released on 13 November 2020 and available here.

Videos: trailer, Endurance, Persévérence.

 

Gabriel Bismut violin, alto
Maurizio Minardi accordion
Barthélemy Seyer guitar
Maurizio Congiu double bass
with
Livia Ferrandon-Bescond harp (tracks 8, 11)

mauriziominardi.com/bismut-minardi

AMA – AMA 01 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Flow’ – Maria Chiara Argirò + Jamie Leeming

THE DRAMATIC, ATMOSPHERIC JAZZ of pianist/keyboardist Maria Chiara Argirò has already established itself in two outstanding sextet albums – The Fall Dance and Hidden Seas. But this quite different venture, in duo with inventive guitarist Jamie Leeming (plus guest violinist/violist Elisabeth Flett), has produced a veritable treasure-trove of acoustic/electronic ambience and motion.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 16 October 2020 as a digital album, Flow is available at Bandcamp.

 

Maria Chiara Argirò piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizers
Jamie Leeming electric guitars, acoustic guitars
with
Elisabeth Flett violin, viola (tracks 5, 6, 9)

mariachiaramusic.com
jamieleeming.com

Cavalo Records (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Ever Open Door’ – John Helliwell

‘THE ACTORS AND JESTERS are here, the stage is in darkness and clear…’

An opening line familiar to fans of 1974 pop/rock album ‘Crime of the Century’, If Everyone Was Listening provides the curtain-raiser to former Supertramp saxophonist/clarinettist John Helliwell’s Ever Open Door – an account of easy-flowing jazz performances captured in concert at Chester’s enterprising Storyhouse venue.

This collaboration with fellow Manchester-area artists – creative keyboards guru John Ellis and The Singh String Quartet – presents an interesting range of compositions and arrangements, many by fellow saxophonist (and educator) Andy Scott. They draw on Helliwell’s career, as well as his evolving influences and discoveries which include music by Paolo Fresu, George Butterworth, Jim Scott, and also old bandmates.

Settle into the evening shadows for original delights such as English-folksong-styled Lord Stackhouse (aka Helliwell) and bluesy …It Seemed That Life Was So Wonderful (recognise that ‘Logical’ lyric in the title?), while Peter Gabriel’s introspective Washing of the Water takes on a brighter, hymnal quality. The catalyst for the project, traditional tune Waly Waly, is beautifully shaped, as is extended ‘bonus’ The Ballad of the Sad Young Men; and title track Ever Open Door (by Supertramp’s Rick Davies) offers a rare touch of animation.

Indeed, this 74-minute programme’s outlook is more about serenely melodic mood than adventurous, exuberant improvisation – and maybe a few up-tempo, curveball ‘firecrackers’ would have broken the intended spell. But the intimate, closely-recorded communion of rich tenor sax and clarinet lines, Ellis’s Hammond mastery and the quartet’s plush harmonies is both inspired and warming.

Released on 2 October 2020, Ever Open Door is available from Proper Music.

YouTube videos: The Ballad of the Sad Young Men and Father O’Shea.

 

John Helliwell tenor saxophone, clarinet
John Ellis Hammond B3 organ

THE SINGH STRING QUARTET
Rakhi Singh violin
Simmy Singh violin
Ruth Gibson viola
Ashok Klouda cello

johnhelliwell.com

Challenge Records – CR73511 (2020)