by Ian Mann
August 10, 2022
A very welcome addition to the Burum canon. Nobody else sounds quite like them.
Recordiau Bopa BOPA 004)
Tomos Williams – trumpet, flugelhorn, Daniel Williams – tenor saxophone, Patrick Rimes – pipes, flutes, whistles, Dave Jones – acoustic and electric piano, Aidan Thorne – bass, Mark O’Connor – drums
The Welsh sextet Burum specialises in what must be a unique combination of Welsh folk music and jazz. Co-led by brothers Tomos and Daniel Williams the band was formed in 2007 and has since carved out its own distinctive musical niche through the brothers’ jazz arrangements of traditional Welsh folk tunes and hymns.
The use of folk melodies in jazz is hardly new and has proved to be a particularly fertile source for Scottish and Scandinavian musicians, but Burum are virtually the only group to be flying the flag for Wales in this particular musical area.
The group name Burum means “yeast”, which I’ve always felt to an appropriate moniker given the way that they transform their chosen source material into something exciting and new, seemingly by a process of musical alchemy.
“Eneidiau”, meaning “Souls” or “Spirits” is the fourth album from Burum and follows in the wake of the acclaimed “Alawon” (meaning “Tunes”) from 2007, the excellent “Caniadau” (“Songs”) from 2012 and the more recent “Llef” (“The Cry”) from 2016. Both “Caniadau” and “Llef” are favourably reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann web pages as is an excellent live performance by the band at the 2014 Brecon Jazz Festival. I’ve also enjoyed other live performances from the group in the less formal setting of the Queens Head pub in Monmouth, the latest of these being in July 2022 and the official launch of the “Eneidiau” album. Largely concentrating on material from the new recording the sextet delivered a highly charged performance that clearly delighted the audience, with drummer Mark O’Connor in particularly scintillating form as he and Thorne created a highly propulsive platform for the front line soloists, including Burum’s latest recruit, Patrick Rimes on the Welsh bagpipes and a variety of flutes and whistles.
Burum’s first three albums featured the talents of piper / flautist Ceri Rhys Matthews, a folk musician who the other members of Burum used to describe as “the joker in the pack”. Matthews was the group’s ‘wild card’ and brought an authentic folk sensibility to Burum’s music. When he eventually left the band Burum played some shows as a quintet but it wasn’t quite the same without the pipes and Rimes represents a most welcome addition to the band. Born in North Wales Rimes is a talented multi-instrumentalist who comes from a folk background but who has also acquired a love of jazz. He has previously worked with the Welsh folk band Calan and with Cerys Matthews.
The new album represents a departure for Burum in the fact that there is no CD release. “Eneidiau” is available in vinyl and digital formats only via the group’s Bandcamp page.
My thanks go to Tomos Williams for providing me with a review copy of the vinyl at the recent Monmouth gig.
As far as I can tell Side A features three arrangements by Tomos Williams and Side B a further two by Daniel. Daniel’s liner notes offer further insights into the source material.
The album commences with “Cariad Cywir” (“True Love”), which in fact turns out to be a tale of unrequited love. Burum’s arrangements typically combine folk melodies with the kind of modal jazz pioneered by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. This piece features the appealing blend of the Williams brothers’ trumpet and sax, the alternating Bill Evans / McCoy Tyner piano stylings of Dave Jones and the subtly propulsive rhythms of Thorne and O’Connor. But the most distinctive component is Rime’s pipes as he shares the solos with Tomos Williams’ trumpet. O’Connor is a highly musical drummer and one passage brings his skins to the fore, his sticks dancing nimbly around the kit in the most melodic of drum features.
“Suo Gan” translates as “lullaby” and this piece functions in this capacity, albeit in a manner inspired by the meditative music of Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders. The melody is only alluded to in an atmospheric ‘free jazz’ performance that features the sounds of reeds, brass, piano, bowed bass and shimmering cymbals. Rimes features on whistle, bringing an air of Celtic mysticism into the mix that combines well with the ‘spiritual jazz’ elements.
The title track finds the sextet reaching out beyond the boundaries of Wales and is a suite of melodies, representing the “souls” or “spirits” of the title. The piece is inspired by the artworks of the Jewish refugees Heinz Koppel and Joseph Herman, who fled to Wales during World War II.
The first tune to be heard is the Welsh folk tune “Bugeilia’r Gwenith Gwyn” or “Watching The Wheat”, which features the distinctive sound of Rime’s flutes and whistles, which combine effectively with Daniel’s tenor and Thorne’s melodic double bass. The sequence also incorporates an Anglo-French galliard and “some Jewish harmonic colours to finish”. Jones provides the only real ‘jazz solo’ but overall this is very much an ensemble piece, one that skilfully blends the folk and jazz elements of Burum’s music together to produce a group performance that is hauntingly beautiful.
Side B commences with “Pibddawns Dowlais” or “Dowlais Hornpipe”, a piece chosen in honour of the Welsh historian Gwyn A. Williams, who was born in Dowlais. Williams coined the phrase “Plague Year”, which he ascribed to to the year 1979 and the emergence of the Thatcher government. Since then the phrase has gained another meaning and “Eneidiau” was recorded in 2021 with the help of a Covid Kickstarter Fund from the Genesis Foundation. Gwyn Williams also noted that the Welsh nation has always “had to dance among the giant cogwheels of history”. Daniel Williams, a proud Welshman expresses “the hope that the dance will continue for some time yet”.
O’Connor’s drums introduce the performance, later working in conjunction with Thorne’s double bass and Tomos Williams’ clipped trumpet phrases. Jones features on electric piano in an arrangement inspired by the Miles Davis album “Miles In The Sky”.
The album concludes with the near fifteen minute “Myn Mair” (“Oh Mary”), which takes its title from a prayer delivered at the time of death and pleading for the release of a friend’s soul from purgatory. The melody dates back to the 16th century and the Catholic Church in Wales at that time.
Musically the piece draws inspiration from the 1976 Keith Jarrett album “The Survivor’s Suite” and from the music of the late, great Polish trumpeter and composer Tomasz Stanko.
The performance is almost entirely improvised and commences with the melancholic sounds of Rimes’ flutes and whistles, subsequently joined by O’Connor’s drum colourations, Thorne’s bowed bass and eventually brass and reeds with Daniel’s tenor eventually assuming the lead. Essentially this is a ‘free jazz’ performance but one that embraces the same kind of spirituality that distinguishes “Suo Gan” on Side A. It’s also similar in feel to the Jarrett album that helped to inspire it. Rimes’ flutes return as the sextet continue to improvise around the folk melody, grounded by Thorne’s bass. Jones keeps a low profile, only entering the fray at a comparatively late point in the proceedings as he exchanges melodic phrases with Rimes and the Williams brothers.
Pressed on very high quality vinyl “Eneidiau” is a very welcome addition to the Burum canon. During the course of its fifteen year existence the group has established an impressive rapport with the core ‘jazz quintet’ of Williams, Williams, Jones, Thorne and O’Connor there from the beginning. Rimes has fulfilled the imposing task of fitting into Ceri Rhys Williams’ shoes with considerable aplomb and it’s his multi-instrumental skills on pipes, flutes and whistles that help to make this sextet so unique. Nobody sounds quite like Burum, so to paraphrase Daniel Williams let’s hope their dance will also continue for some time yet.
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