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Huw Warren Trio

Huw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019.


by Ian Mann

February 13, 2019


An excellent performance from three highly talented musicians. The release of the forthcoming album “Everything In Between” will be very keenly anticipated.

Huw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019.

Brecon Jazz Club’s February event brought something of a Welsh ‘supergroup’ to The Muse.

North Wales based pianist and composer Huw Warren is a musician with an international reputation who is currently touring in support of his forthcoming trio album “Everything In Between” which is due to be released on the Italian Cam Jazz record label, the imprint that was once the ‘home’ of the late, great pianist and composer John Taylor.

The new album will feature the trio of Huw Warren, bassist Dudley Phillips and drummer Zoot Warren, Huw’s son.  However for tonight’s performance Brecon Jazz Club had invited double bassist Paula Gardiner to join Huw and Zoot. Based in Cardiff Gardiner is the Head of Jazz at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff (RWCMD).

Gardiner is an old friend of Brecon Jazz and first performed at the town’s famous jazz festival in 1986. She subsequently led her own groups releasing the albums “Tales of Inclination” (1995), “Six” (1999) and “Hot Lament” (2008). She was also a member of pianist Dave Stapleton’s Quintet (DSQ) and appeared on that group’s first two albums “When Life Was In Black And White” and “The House Always Wins”. In recent years Gardiner has placed a greater emphasis on her role as an educator and tonight was the first time that I had seen her playing live for some considerable time.

I first became aware of Huw Warren’s playing and composing during the 1990s through the collaborative quartet Perfect Houseplants which also featured bassist Dudley Phillips, saxophonist Mark Lockheart and drummer Martin France, my interest in the band first piqued by the inclusion of former Loose Tubes Lockheart and France. I still love the Houseplants’ unique fusion of jazz, folk, classical and various ethnic musics and even now the quartet still play the occasional re-union concert.

I’ve also followed Huw’s solo career which has yielded several pleasingly eclectic albums including “A Barrel Organ Far From Home” (1997) and “Hundreds Of Things A Boy Can Make” (2003), both of which built upon the quirkiness of the Houseplants sound.

Warren, also a skilled accordionist and cellist, is a serial collaborator who has a particular affinity for working with vocalists, among them Maria Pia De Vito, Christine Tobin and the folk diva June Tabor for whom he acted as pianist and musical director on several of the singer’s solo albums. Warren and Tabor plus saxophonist Iain Ballamy now perform under the collective name Quercus and have recorded two acclaimed folk/jazz albums for the prestigious ECM record label.

Like Gardiner Warren is something of a Brecon favourite having played at the Festival on many occasions, the highlights including collaborations with American drummer Jim Black and with Italian clarinettist Gabriele Mirabassi, in addition to numerous sideman appearances. He has also led his own groups including Quercus and in 2014 a quartet paying homage to Dylan Thomas via Warren’s yet to be recorded jazz suite “Do Not Go Gentle”.

In 2009 Warren released “Hermeto +” (Basho Records), an album that paid tribute to the Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, a musician who has had a particularly strong influence on Warren and other British musicians, including other members of Perfect Houseplants and Loose Tubes. Recorded with France at the drums and the Austrian musician Peter Herbert on double bass “Hermeto +” featured a near 50/50 split between arrangements of Pascoal compositions and Warren originals inspired by the great man. The album attracted considerable acclaim and much of the material formed part of the repertoire of Warren’s Trio Brasil featuring Huw, Dudley Phillips and Zoot, sometimes augmented by guest saxophonist Iain Ballamy, which has gigged widely in the UK ever since, including an excellent performance at the 2016 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in nearby Abergavenny.

The forthcoming album “Something In Between”, due for release on March 15th 2019, will represent the long awaited follow up to “Hermeto +” and will again feature a mix of Pascoal compositions and Warren originals. The personnel this time round will be the ongoing Trio Brasil of Huw, Phillips and Zoot and the repertoire from the new album formed the basis of tonight’s two sets.

With no grand piano available Huw performed on a Yamaha electric keyboard with the sound set to acoustic piano. With Gardiner on double bass and Zoot behind the kit the trio kicked off with the Warren original “Mouli Baby” which commenced with a freely structured intro featuring Zoot’s use of mallets and bare hands before a folk like melody emerged on a piece that exhibited a distinct influence from West African music. This was music that was simultaneously complex and joyous, characteristics that also distinguish Pascoal’s music, and the piece included impressive opening solos from Huw and Gardiner as Zoot provided astute rhythmic colour and propulsion.

Next we heard a segue of Pascoal tunes. Huw has been influenced by Brazilian music in general, but by Pascoal in particular. But anybody expecting a relaxing evening of gentle Jobim style samba and bossa was in for a shock. Pascoal’s music is more complex, rhythmic and vibrant and his richly colourful compositions bring their own rewards, even if they do make the listener work a little bit harder. Huw describes it as “serous fun”, a quality he tries to bring to all his music making.

“O Farol que nos guia” began with a passage of unaccompanied piano that developed into a sumptuously flowing melody tenderly embellished by Zoot’s exquisite cymbal work as he delicately shadowed his father’s playing. Gardiner flourished her bow as she provided the link into the more vibrant and energetic second half of the segue, “Papo Furado”, meaning “Jive Talking” which was distinguished by a dazzling piano solo from Huw and a neatly constructed solo drum feature from Zoot. Without Ballamy in the band the young drummer was given more room to shine and I was hugely impressed by his contribution throughout the evening as he coaxed a wide range of sounds and colours from his kit and responded instinctively to his colleagues, always seeming to play the right beat or accent.

Huw’s original “First Love, Last Rites” was inspired by an Ian McEwan collection of short stories and was a delightful ballad introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano. Huw’s lyricism at the keyboard was matched by Gardiner’s melodic double bass solo while Zoot again displayed a deft and subtle cymbal touch.

“Endless Stars”, by the esteemed American pianist and composer Fred Hersch, doubtless another one of Huw’s musical heroes, followed a similar trajectory; another beautiful tune introduced by a passage of solo piano and again finding room for a bass solo from the excellent Gardiner.

The first set concluded with the trio picking up the pace again for a spirited romp through Pascoal’s “Chorino pra Ele”. Huw informed us that a ‘chorino’ was originally a 19th century dance incorporating classical harmonies and Brazilian rhythms. Tonight’s arrangement also threw an allusion to John Coltrane’s classic jazz composition “Giant Steps” into the mix.

Set two began with an unaccompanied passage from Zoot at the drums, subsequently joined by Gardiner’s bass as the rhythm team introduced “Sambari”, written by the Brazilian singer and songwriter Joyce. Their dialogue eventually led to an expansive piano solo from Huw and later a bass solo from Gardiner on a piece that seemed to epitomise the Brazilian spirit.

Next we heard the title track from the new album, the tune name “Everything In Between” chosen as an indicator of Huw’s highly catholic musical tastes - “from opera to death metal and everything in between”. The music itself was appropriately wide ranging, beginning with the delicate intro for piano and brushed cymbals through folk inspired Houseplants like cadences to full on Pascoal inspired passages featuring the ebullient, highly percussive piano soloing of the leader as Gardiner and Zoot responded with an energetic aplomb.

Both band and audience seemed somewhat drained after this so Huw announced the only standard of the evening, a delightful ballad arrangement of the Jerome Kern song “The Folks That Live On The Hill”. Amazingly Huw had only been introduced to the song fairly recently when playing a gig with that doyenne of British jazz vocalists, the great Norma Winstone - “it’s got a middle six instead of a middle eight”, he went on to inform us. With Zoot providing sympathetically brushed accompaniment we were treated to some of Huw’s most lyrical playing, albeit becoming more expansive as the piece progressed. Gardiner’s bass solo combined a rich melodicism with a deep resonance, with the bow again appearing briefly at the close of the song.

As the trio upped the energy levels once more we were introduced to the music of two more Brazilian composers in a closing segue. First we heard Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro”  (translation “Parrot”) and then Pixinguinha’s “Un a Zero”, the latter a celebration of a famous Brazilian football victory over neighbours and fierce rivals Uruguay. Zoot introduced the proceedings at the drums before the addition of bass and piano acted as the spark for a playful solo from Huw.
A brief passage of unaccompanied piano formed the link into the Pixinguinha tune, a suitably joyous piece that included a vibrant and totally absorbing dialogue between Huw and Zoot, the pair trading ideas in a thrilling series of exchanges. Gardiner merely sat back cradling her bass, as mesmerised as the rest of us.

After a few words from Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall the trio played us out with Pascoal’s “Frevo em Maceo”, effectively an encore which was introduced by Gardiner at the bass, her opening melodic theme statement evolving into a full on solo prior to further features from Huw and Zoot plus a reprise of that earlier drum and piano dialogue. The full trio then came back together again for an astonishingly virtuosic high speed finish.

This was an excellent performance from three highly talented musicians. I was already familiar with the skills of Huw Warren and Paula Gardiner but this was only the second time that I’d seen Zoot Warren perform. A product of National Youth Jazz Wales and the Guildhall School of Music in London I was greatly impressed with his maturity behind the kit, his playing colourful, imaginative and delicately nuanced and never resorting to the obvious rhythms. I’ve heard little of him outside his father’s groups but his appearance on the forthcoming Cam Jazz album is richly deserved and should spread the word of his talent further afield.

My thanks to Huw Warren for speaking with me after the gig and providing me with a set list, otherwise I’d have struggled with all those Portuguese tune titles.

This was a performance that has set the bar high for the rest of the 2019 club programme at Brecon Jazz Club.

Meanwhile the release of “Everything In Between” will be very keenly anticipated.

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