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Huw Warren

Huw Warren Quartet, ‘Choro Choro Choro’, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2024.

by Ian Mann

May 16, 2024


Ian Mann enjoys the playing of a new all-star quartet assembled by Huw Warren to perform music from his new solo piano album "Choro Choro Choro", inspired by the Choro music of Brazil.

Huw Warren Quartet, ‘Choro Choro Choro, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2024.

Huw Warren – piano, Tori Freestone – flute, alto flute, Yuri Goloubev- double bass, Liz Exell – drums

Pianist and composer Huw  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.

He is also a member of the folk / jazz trio Quercus in which he performs alongside singer June Tabor and saxophonist Iain Ballamy.

A recent collaboration saw him teaming up with vocalist / violinist Angharad Jenkins  on the album “Calennig”, a collection of songs centred around the Welsh tradition of celebrating and welcoming the New Year.
This charming release is reviewed here;

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.

He 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.

Warren’s love of Brazilian music is well known and was documented on his 2009 album “Hermeto +”, a celebration of the music of the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal (born 1936). Recorded with a trio featuring bassist Peter Herbert and drummer Martin France the material is split pretty much equally between Pascoal‘s compositions and Warren’s own pieces, with the trio casting fresh light on Hermeto’s tunes. Warren has described this recording as a “celebration, tribute and a musical thank you” and the album is reviewed here;

Warren’s latest project is “Choro Choro Choro”, a celebration of the style of Brazilian music known as Choro. The album release is a solo piano recording but for the tour promoting the record Warren has assembled an all star quartet featuring the talents of flautist Tori Freestone, bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer Liz Exell.

For those unfamiliar with the term “Choro” Warren’s album liner notes offer the following explanation;
“Choro is the vibrant beating heart at the core of Brazilian music. From its emergence in the late nineteenth century in Rio de Janeiro, it has continued to be a musical and cultural influence right up to the present day. The combination of African music elements - more specifically from Bantu and Yoruba peoples - fused with European dances and forms such as Polkas, Marches and Waltzes; created an uniquely Brazilian urban popular music. For this collection I have adapted and arranged music from some of the original innovators such as Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1935) and Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) as well as the undisputed “heavyweight” of choro composers Pixinguinha (1897-1973) and the highly influential Jacob Do Bandolim (1918-1969) and Jonas Pereira da Silva (1934-1997). Modern masters are represented by Guinga (b1950) and Hermeto Pascoal (b1936), who both have included highly individual choros and chorinhos in their varied compositional outputs. I’ve also included two original compositions from 2023. These were written as a response to a period of immersion in the whole Choro history; and are very much a personal reaction to the melodic,harmonic and rhythmic aspects of Choro that I find so attractive. Music is, above all else, an emotional experience, and this emotional connection is central both to my desire to play this repertoire, and my continued artistic development. This project is dedicated to the many Brazilian musicians that have welcomed me with open arms and encouraged me to be creative with this incredible music”.

Warren has been a frequent visitor to Brecon Jazz and a large and supportive crowd were at The Muse to see his latest project. Before the band began to play Warren gave a verbal explanation of Choro, informing us that it had absorbed many of the same influences as early jazz.

The first piece to be played was “Atlantico”, a composition by Ernesto Nazareth that also opens the “Choro Choro Choro” album. Warren told us that this was a “traditional” Choro composition dating back to the 1910s. Wikipedia describes Choro as being “characterized by virtuosity, improvisation and subtle modulations, and is full of syncopationand counterpoint”. All of these qualities could be found in the playing of Warren and the quartet and this opening item featured some admirably tight ensemble playing as the group members tackled the complexities of the piece. In this jazz setting room was also found for collective and individual self improvisation as we also enjoyed solos from Warren at the piano, Goloubev at the bass and Freestone on flute.

Warren spoke of his love for the music of Hermeto Pascoal and the next piece was the Pascoal composition“ Briguinha da Musicos Malacos” the title approximately translating as “Fight of the Crazy Musicians”. “Just listen to it” said Warren by way of explanation, also adding that the work was “manic and modern”.
This was an appropriately playful piece, initially led by Freestone’s jaunty flute melody. The flute is one of the signature instruments of Choro and Freestone’s playing was a vital component of the quartet’s sound. She is also an accomplished saxophonist, violinist, composer and bandleader with several recordings as a leader or co-leader to her credit, several of which have been reviewed elsewhere on this site. Gradually the music became less melodic and playful and increasingly fractious and disjointed with a ‘free jazz’ episode that presumably represented the ‘fight’ of the title. Happily a reconciliation was eventually reached with the return of that joyous flute melody.

Another album track, “Velho Amigo” by Jonas Pereira Da Silva” dated back to the 1960s and was introduced by a combination of piano and double bass, with Exell’s mallets providing subtle drum commentary. Exell has become a big favourite with Brecon jazz audiences and is highly skilled and hugely versatile drummer capable of playing across a broad variety of jazz styles and genres. Her performance tonight was superb, always finding the right sound or accent via a combination of brushes, sticks, mallets and bare hands. Set up to face Warren she was always thinking and consistently coming up with the right choices, it was like watching a painter behind the drum kit. She chose brushes to accompany Warren’s piano solo and Goloubev’s subsequent double bass feature.

The first of two Warren originals was “Desequilibrado”, a title that translates as “Unbalanced”. Equally inspired by Choro and by the music of J.S.Bach this was a piece that featured several complex changes of meter and at the end of the performance Warren praised Exell for the assured way in which she had executed them.  The performance also included solos from Freestone, Goloubev and Warren.

Next up was a Pixinguinha tune (I think it was “Vou Vivendo”) written in the 1930s that Warren described as being written in the style of a “palm court orchestra”. This was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano and later featured the distinctive sound of Exell’s hand drumming, the use of hand percussion being another characteristic of Choro. This was a performance that included further solos from Freestone on flute and the leader at the piano.

The first set concluded with Pascoal’s composition “Chorinho pra Ele”, a tune written for his brother. Introduced by Warren at the piano the piece included solos from Goloubev, Freestone and Warren and featured the kind of frantic collective finale that typifies so many of Pascoal’s interesting and challenging compositions.

Set two commenced with Warren’s second original, “Chorinho for Hermeto”, dedicated to you know who. Solos from Freestone on flute, Goloubev on double bass and Warren at the piano were variously accompanied by a combination of brushes and hand drums.

The oldest tune of the night was “Gaucho”, written by the female composer Chiquinha Gonzaga as far back as the 1890s. Introduced by a combination of piano and bass this developed into a breezy, upbeat tune that combined breezy melodies with vibrant rhythms, with Freestone the featured soloist. The style was broadly reminiscent of ragtime, which was developing contemporaneously in North America.

In the context of tonight’s performance Guinga’s “Chorinho pro Ze” represented the equivalent of a jazz ballad and was the only number to feature the warmer, softer, more rounded tones of Freestone’s alto flute. Goloubev was also featured on melodic double bass and Warren at the piano, with Exell variously deploying mallets and brushes.

Warren described the Pascoal composition “Intocavel” (translating as “incomparable” or “untouchable”) as being notoriously difficult to play. Nevertheless the quartet were able to safely navigate the challenges, with Freestone, now restored to ‘regular’ flute, the featured soloist.

The Pixinguinha tune “Un a Zero”,  is a particular favourite for Warren and he has performed the piece on numerous occasions at Brecon in the past. The title celebrates a famous Brazilian football victory over neighbours and fierce rivals Uruguay.  This was introduced by an unaccompanied brushed drum intro from Exell that eventually invited responses from Warren and then Goloubev. Exell’s brisk brush work then helped to propel solos from Freestone on flute, Warren at the piano and Goloubev at the bass. Warren responded to Goloubev before handing over to Exell for a final drum feature.

The Brecon audience responded enthusiastically to this complex, and for some no doubt, unfamiliar music. The deserved encore was a version of the Antonio Carlos Jobim song “Retrato em Branco e Preto” , which has been translated into English as “Portrait in Black and White”. This was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied piano, with flute and brushed drums subsequently added. Subsequent solos came from Warren, Freestone and Goloubev, with the bassist’s feature also including a passage of unaccompanied playing.

This had been an excellent evening of Brazilian music, hosted in an informative and entertaining manner by Warren. My thanks to him for speaking with me afterwards and for providing me with a signed copy of the “Choro Choro Choro” album.  Thanks also to Tori and Liz for speaking with me and for signing copies of albums that they had played on. I had brought along specifically for that purpose. First and foremost I’m a fan of the music and the musicians, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this!

The “Choro Choro Choro”  recording features solo piano performances of many of the pieces that we heard this evening. The album is doe to be officially released on May 24t 2024 but is already available at gigs and can be pre-ordered via Huw’s Bandcamp page.

Recorded at Cardiff University Concert Hall by musicians Eddie Gripper and Patrick Barrett-Donlon, mixed and mastered by Gerry O’Riordan and produced by Warren himself the album boasts a glorious grand piano sound.  The performances feature a wealth of those Choro characteristics of “virtuosity, improvisation subtle modulations, syncopation and counterpoint”. In addition to these qualities it is also genuinely beautiful.

Warren has expressed an interest in recording with tonight’s quartet but the “Choro Choro Choro” album recording is a delightful and hugely accomplished work in its own right and is highly recommended to listeners.

The full track listing is;

1. Atlantico (Ernesto Nazareth)

2. Agradecendo (Pixinguinha)

3. Gaucho (Chiquinha Gonzaga)

4. Velho Amigo (Jonas Pereira Da Silva)

5. Intocavel (Hermeto Pascoal)

6. Receite de Samba (Jacob Do Bandolim)

7. Desequilibrado (Huw Warren)

8. Choro pro Ze (Hermeto Pascoal)

9. Chorinho for Hermeto (Huw Warren)

10. Naquele Tempo (Pixinguinha)

11. Odeon (Ernesto Nazareth)

Forthcoming quartet tour dates are;

May 2024;
23rd Soundcellar, Poole
24th 1000 Trades, Birmingham
29th Bristol Music Club, Bristol

June 2024
8th The Hive, Shrewsbury

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