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by Ian Mann

February 25, 2016


A remarkably mature début statement from Williams that demonstrates his considerable capabilities as both a musician and a composer. This is the sound of an artist who has 'arrived'.

Huw V. Williams


Chaos Collective CC005)

Born in 1990 in Bangor, North Wales, the double bassist and composer Huw V. Williams is a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. He has now moved to London to become a full time professional musician and has joined the ranks of the increasingly influential Chaos Collective of young musicians co-founded by trumpeter Laura Jurd and pianist Elliot Galvin.

Both Jurd and Galvin, who also features on accordion, appear on this quintet album with the line up being completed by tenor saxophonist Alam Nathoo and drummer Peter Ibbetson. “Hon”, which means “this” in Welsh, is a band name as well as an album title and this recording represents an outstanding début from the highly talented Williams. 

The young bassist is a musician that I’ve kept an eye on since first seeing him play with the RWCMD Big Band and with a variety of small groups at various venues in South Wales during his Cardiff days. When not performing himself Williams was a regular in the audience at Dempsey’s in Cardiff, watching and learning from other musicians. A frequent award winner his accolades have included the 2012 Yamaha Jazz Scholars Prize and the Friends of RWCMD Prize which was awarded at his graduation.

In recent years Williams has been a regular member of pianist Huw Warren’s trio and in 2013 played what was then probably the biggest gig of his life at Brecon Jazz Festival when he appeared alongside Warren and the brilliant New York based drummer Jim Black in a one off collaboration billed as “Wales meets Brooklyn”. I was part of an audience that witnessed a brilliant group performance that turned out to be one of the Festival highlights, with Williams acquitting himself superbly. Although most of the pieces that were played were written by Warren or Black the programme included Williams’ composition “Glyn” which makes a most welcome appearance here as a ‘bonus track’ at the end of the album, following eight pieces featuring the Hon quintet. 

“Hon” reveals Williams to be an accomplished and highly individual composer who has been influenced by a wide range of musical styles ranging from rock to free jazz and locations from Wales to New York. The album begins with the brief “Beryl”, an atmospheric and pastoral chorale featuring Williams’ bass subtly shadowing the gently intertwining horns of Jurd and Nathoo.

Galvin and Ibbetson join the party for the jerky and quirky “Skardu’s Missing”, a piece that recalls the post Loose Tubes whimsy of Django Bates, Iain Ballamy and the Arguelles brothers. These guys were influences on Galvin’s own wilfully eccentric trio, as can be heard on the album “Dreamland”, also released on the Chaos Collective’s own label. Galvin makes a substantial contribution to this piece, soloing on accordion and also contributing ‘natural’ and prepared piano sounds. The other soloist is Jurd, a musician of immense technical ability, who takes a joyous delight in exploring the full range of the trumpet. But “Skardu” is also a terrific ensemble performance as the five musicians playfully tackle the complexities of Williams’ writing.

“06/01/14” begins with a skittering free jazz episode before adopting a hard hitting but odd meter post rock groove that suggests the influence of Black and his fellow Downtown New Yorkers. Jurd solos first followed by Galvin on prepared piano, his Bates and Tippett inspired idiosyncrasies helping to keep the music defiantly British. Nathoo contributes a powerful solo on tenor before locking horns with Jurd as Ibbetson drums up a storm around them. It’s challenging but thrillingly exciting stuff. 

After the fireworks of the previous two pieces Williams demonstrates his versatility as a composer with a return to the pastoral feel of the opener on the atmospheric “Rotten Apple Boughs”. This piece combines wispy, folk inspired impressionism with free jazz elements as Galvin’s accordion contrasts well with Jurd’s mournful trumpet and Nathoo’s baleful low register tenor - one can almost feel the boughs of the title creaking in the wind. It’s also notable for a passage that places Williams’ bass to the fore, his first solo of the album. As a musician Williams is very much a team player, placing his bass at the heart of the ensemble but never dominating it. It’s a remarkably mature and selfless approach from such a young musician. Williams’ solo forms a kind of bridge into the second half of the piece which features more forceful playing from both Nathoo and Jurd.

“Mugs” reveals yet another side to Williams’ musical persona with its rocky, funky grooves and bright melodies. However there’s also a Downtown New York rigour about the music plus some unsettling accordion and electronica, both presumably courtesy of Galvin. On such a rhythmic piece both Williams and the excellent Ibbetson are prominent but there are also fiery solos from Nathoo and Jurd plus a series of powerful and effervescent exchanges between the pair. There’s also some indecipherable crowd chanting (by the Caerhun Hooligan Choir) on a thrillingly vibrant and visceral piece that is sure to be an audience favourite at the band’s gigs. 

The intriguingly titled “Retrogressive Shredfest” starts out with Williams’ sturdy bass groove quickly joined by percussive sounds generated by Ibbetson’s kit and Galvin’s interior piano scrapings. The horns then combine on a snatch of Coleman-esque melody which resurfaces periodically, punctuated by free jazz episodes featuring the sound of Williams’ bowed bass and Galvin’s increasingly bizarre pianistics.

The spirit of Ornette also informs “Slumps” which combines quick-fire bursts of Coleman styled horn melodies with the sound of Galvin’s accordion – kind of ‘Coleman meets Claudia’, if you will. Williams then establishes a propulsive bass groove which fuels mercurial solos from Nathoo and Jurd, these preceding a lengthier outing from Galvin that serves as a brilliant demonstration of his ability on the accordion and of the instrument’s potential in a jazz / improvised music context.

Williams’ website states that the title track, “Hon”, is inspired by a poem by T.H. Parry Williams and that it describes a love/hate relationship with Wales, the pride in one’s roots counteracted by the need to leave to truly fulfil oneself. It’s a dilemma that applies to Scotland, Ireland and parts of rural England too. The music perfectly illustrates Williams’ thoughts through its juxtaposition of folk melodies and deep urban grooves. Galvin features on accordion and what sounds like Hammond organ and the main solo comes from Nathoo’s declamatory tenor.

Finally we hear “Glyn”, recorded on that memorable day in Brecon back in 2013. It’s a treat to be able to hear it again but wouldn’t it be great if the entire performance could sometime be released as a live album. But for the meantime let’s just enjoy the piece that first signalled Williams’ enormous potential as composer. On the day this piece stood up superbly alongside the compositions of Warren and Black. Its attractive melody acts as the inspiration for an expansive solo from the excellent Warren but Williams’ bass is at the very heart of the music and he also solos impressively. Black’s loose limbed drumming is receptive, inventive and colourful; often finely nuanced but also bristling with an innate power that periodically bubbles to the surface.

“Hon” represents a remarkably mature début statement from Williams and demonstrates his considerable capabilities as both a musician and a composer. His writing covers an impressive range of musical styles with elements drawn from an array of disparate sources from jazz to rock to folk and his compositions also cover a wide dynamic range, often within the course of a single tune. Jurd, Galvin, Nathoo and Ibbetson all make strong individual contributions but this is also an ensemble that impresses as a collective whole.

The eight quintet tracks would make an impressive album in themselves but the inclusion of the excellent “Glyn” is a genuine bonus (so often many so called “bonus tracks” are little more than gratuitous filler), particularly so for those of us who were there when it was recorded. 

Williams and the various musicians are well served by producer Warren and the engineering team of Alex Killpartrick, Sam Barnes and Donal Whelan who between them bring out all the subtleties, colours, textures and detail inherent in the writing and the playing. The album was recorded entirely in Wales and benefited from the support of the Jazz4Jed scheme set up in the memory of the late Jed Williams, the former Artistic Director of Brecon Jazz Festival.

“Hon” stands alongside Jurd’s “Landing Ground” as one of THE stand out British jazz début albums of recent years. This is the sound of an artist who has ‘arrived’.

“Hon” will be released on the Chaos Collective label on Friday 26th February 2016.


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