Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

January 02, 2024


All of the arrangements are jointly credited to Warren & Jenkins and they bring something fresh to these traditional melodies, some of them hundreds of years old, while remaining true to their spirit.

Angharad Jenkins & Huw Warren


(Sienco Records SIENCO4)

Angharad Jenkins – voice, violin, Huw Warren – piano

It seems only fitting that my first review of 2024 should be of “Calennig”, the recent release from the Welsh duo of folk violinist / vocalist Angharad Jenkins and jazz pianist Huw Warren. I’m grateful to Huw for forwarding me a review copy of this charming album.

“Calennig” means “New Year’s Gift” and the album liner notes provide the best summation of the inspirations behind the music;
“Calennig is the Welsh tradition of celebrating and welcoming the New Year. It symbolises hope and new beginnings. With these qualities in mind, we have taken a fresh look at some of the traditional music of Wales at Christmas and New Year, with a particular focus on the beautiful, ancient Plygain carols.
These carols would normally be heard unaccompanied, and most often in three-part harmony during the Plygain services of rural Wales, a tradition which has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. Whilst we’ve stayed true to the melodies and lyrics of these carols, they are dressed here in different clothes.
This is a contemporary Welsh album which draws inspiration from, and deeply respects the unique traditions of Wales, but dances somewhere between the sonic worlds of jazz and folk”.

Of course with musicians as free thinking and versatile as Warren and Jenkins the terms “jazz” and “folk” are applied very loosely, as both musicians are more than adept at the art of blurring musical genre boundaries.

Nominally the ‘jazz’ half of the partnership Warren has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages, both as the leader of his own groups and as a member of the celebrated Perfect Houseplants quartet, alongside saxophonist Mark Lockheart, bassist Dudley Phillips and drummer Martin France.

Perfect Houseplants have always espoused folk influences in their sound, but there’s an even stronger merger of jazz and folk elements in the music of Quercus, the trio featuring Warren, folk singer June Tabor and jazz saxophonist Iain Ballamy. The Jazzmann witnessed a particularly compelling live performance by Quercus at the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton back in 2015 and has also reviewed “Nightfall” (2017), the second of two concert recordings by the trio released by the prestigious ECM label.  Of all Warren’s previous projects Quercus is perhaps closest in spirit to “Calennig”.

Warren is a musician with an international reputation and has collaborated with artists such as the American drummer Jim Black, French trumpeter Eric Truffaz, Gambian kora player Sura Susso, Austrian bassist Peter Herbert,  Brazilian vocalist / percussionist Seu Gaio, Italian vocalist Maria Pia de Vito and Irish vocalist Christine Tobin. Wales Meets Brooklyn, a collaboration between Warren, Black and bassist Huw V Williams, was one of THE highlights of the 2013 Brecon Jazz Festival.

Warren is also an in demand sideman who has worked with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, and particularly those from his native Wales. Among those with whom he has appeared are trumpeters Tomos Williams, Gethin Liddington and Bryan Corbett, trombonist Raph Clarkson, saxophonist Dan Newberry, bassist Paula Gardiner and drummer Corrie Dick.

I’ve been a fan of Warren’s playing for many years but have to admit to knowing rather less about Angharad Jenkins. A glance at her website reveals her to be a member of the celebrated Welsh folk group Calan, the electro-folk quartet Kaikrea and the duo DnA, a collaboration with her mother, harpist Delyth Jenkins. She has also worked in a duo with multi-instrumentalist and fellow Calan member Patrick Rimes.

Jenkins has also worked with folk-rock act the Joe Allen Band and with the rock group Broken Fires. She also works as a project manager for various arts based institutions.

As a composer Jenkins has written for the theatre and for various youth education projects as well as writing specifically commissioned works for weddings. She has also issued a couple of indie-pop singles under the capitalised name ANGHARAD.

Meanwhile PROsiect hAIcw is a multi-media project between Jenkins and the visual artist Iwan Bala that takes inspiration from the work of Angharad’s late father, the poet Nigel Jenkins.

Turning now to “Calennig”, which appears on Jenkins own Sienco Records imprint. As an educator Jenkins is heavily involved with the National Eisteddfod and it would appear that the Eisteddfod helped to provide the initial impetus for this project, which is also supported by the Arts Council of Wales.

The majority of the ten pieces are based on traditional melodies, with one exception being the opening track, “Awn I Fethlem”, which features music and words written by Rhys Pritchard. Nevertheless it’s a piece that helps to set the tone for the album as a whole. Warren’s crystalline piano playing is complemented by Jenkins’ expressive singing, the lyrics delivered in the Welsh language, as they are throughout the album. Jenkins may be best known as a violinist but she’s also a hugely accomplished singer and her primary role on this recording is as a vocalist, with her violin deployed more sparingly to provide moments of colour and texture.

“Wel, Dyma’r Bore Gore I Gyd” features words by Dafydd Ddu Eryri and features the same combination of pure toned vocals and lyrical piano. The album was recorded at Cardiff University Concert Hall with two young musicians, pianist Eddie Gripper and drummer Patrick Barrett-Donlon acting as engineers. Congratulations are due to both of them, plus Gerry O’Riordan who mixed and mastered the album at Soundhouse Studios in London, for a glorious recorded sound that really brings out the beauty of the music. The sound of the piano is particularly gorgeous and Warren must have relished playing such a wonderful instrument.

“Calennig” itself is performed as an instrumental, which offers us a greater opportunity to hear more of Jenkins’ violin playing. The opening section of the piece has a melancholic quality and Jenkins’ playing exhibits a depth and gravitas perhaps more associated with the viola or cello. Jenkins plays a custom made octave violin, hand crafted for her by Powys based instrument maker Tim Phillips. Later the pace of the piece accelerates and the music takes on more of the celebratory quality inherent in its title. Warren and Jenkins take it turns to share the lead as the latter’s bowing becomes more lively and percussive.

“Darth Nadolol 2020” features the words of two different lyricists, John Jones on the first two verses, Ceri Wynn Jones on the third. As an English speaker the fact that I can’t understand the words is immaterial, they still sound utterly beautiful. In this regard I’m reminded of Julie Fowlis, who sings in Scots Gaelic but whose music has gained a huge listenership. Given sufficient exposure the music of Jenkins and Warren is equally capable of appealing to a similar audience, and fans of Quercus should love it too.

An aside (but a relevant one); When I enjoyed a live performance by Julie Fowlis band at the Muni Arts Centre in Pontypridd way back in 2007 support was provided by none other than Delyth Jenkins.

“Roedd yn y Wlad Honno” features a particularly affecting melody, plus words by Sion Ebrill. Like most of the pieces it includes short passages of unaccompanied piano from Warren, not jazz solos as such but concise statements that confirm his mastery of the instrument.

Similar qualities inform “Hosanna Mwy”, which features words by J Lloyd Williams.

The album’s only original, and its second instrumental, is “’Dolig Abertawe”, written by Angharad Jenkins. This brings the composer’s fiddle to the fore once more on a folk inspired melody that fits in perfectly with the ethos of the album as a whole. It’s a sparkling duet that includes superb contributions from both musicians, culminating in a dialogue featuring pizzicato violin and the sound of dampened piano strings.

No lyricists are credited after track 6, so I can’t tell you who wrote the words to “Myn Mair”, a piece that features a dramatic performance including ominous low end piano rumblings and a stark and sombre vocal.

“Y Bore Ganwyd Iesu” is less austere, with Jenkins’ vocals expressing a genuine joyfulness, sung to a simple piano accompaniment, but with Warren adding more ornate flourishes during the fleeting solo piano passages. The closing section also sees Jenkins picking up the bow to deliver some of her most rousing violin playing of the set.

The album concludes with “Ar Fore Dydd Nadolig”, which features just voice and piano, including a little judicious tinkering ‘under the lid’ from Warren.

All of the arrangements are jointly credited to Warren and Jenkins and they bring something fresh to these traditional melodies, some of them hundreds of years old, while remaining true to their spirit. The performances are beautiful and the recording quality immaculate.

“As well as celebrating New Year Calennig” is also a Christmas album and it makes for a very refreshing change from the usual Yule time musical offerings. It’s certainly my favourite seasonal recording for a very long time and one could easily imagine these songs being played on Radio 3 programmes such as Night Tracks, Late Junction and In Tune.

It all makes for a beautiful way to begin 2024.

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