While Hon producer Huw Warren has done newcomer Huw V Williams, above, more than proud, Williams – the V is for Vaughan – has also done himself proud. As listeners we’re simply lucky to hear this fine debut.
A quietly inspirational state of the art adventurously conceived experimental largely acoustic jazz record grounded in improvisation, a strong grip exerted on form and shape, the highly defined compositional silhouette of double bassist Williams – who is originally from Bangor in north Wales, and who studied not too long ago at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff – a stark contrast to the murk and mayhem in the ruck of group improv. Huw V. draws inspiration from the poetry of TH Parry-Williams whose poem ‘Hon’ explored themes of Welsh identity that also folds into a homage to Snowdonia.
A live bonus track called ‘Glyn’ on which producer Warren makes his only appearance sets the whole thing up chronologically, all the other tracks are studio-fashioned numbers performed by the Williams quintet by themselves. Warren, whose reputation has scaled new heights in the last few years following the release of folk-jazz masterpiece Quercus with June Tabor and Iain Ballamy, is the doyen of the contemporary Welsh jazz piano scene (whose other leading members include Dave Stapleton and into the modern-mainstream Geoff Eales), and on ‘Glyn’ teams with underground AlasNoAxis experimental rock drummer Jim Black on this single track recorded in the Powys market town of Brecon at the currently under-threat festival three years ago, a year and a half before the studio numbers.
In the band trumpeter Laura Jurd and pianist Elliot Galvin have already recorded a lot together in recent years in a number of other projects and have a strong personal and musical rapport, the Hon band here completed on the studio tracks by newcomer saxophonist Alam Nathoo and Peter Ibbetson.
Galvin on the opener ‘Beryl’ crops up tellingly on accordion, his sound in this instance relating back perhaps to one of Warren’s most significant artistic statements, 1990s Babel album A Barrel Organ From Home.
There’s a loose feel to the overall musical ideas especially in the sprawlingly fresh freak-out and more open sections (eg on ‘Mugs’) Ibbetson somehow feeding in a dance music jungle/drum&bass feel and mixed in are uncredited sound effects which amount to a pleasant surprise, raucously sung shouting from a crowd of voices that sound like a baying mob.
It’s clever the way that the tonalities shift in places as the band flirt in their impulse-driven flow with the plangently atonal as much as with the more optimistically melodic. The bassist’s avant freebop side draws on Ornettian flavours a little on ‘Slumps’. Perhaps Williams might well turn out to be the Welsh Calum Gourlay... or Gourlay somehow, watching this newcomer mature with a benevolent eye, to respond in turn to become the Scottish Huw V. Williams.