The Red Lion, Birmingham UK
Presented by Birmingham Jazz
Review and Photographs by John Watson
Huw Warren must be one of the most versatile pianists and composers on the planet. I have enjoyed his work in a huge variety of settings, in recent times with the ECM recording group Quercus (featuring veteran folk singer June Tabor), and a couple of years ago as artist in residence at Brecon Jazz, where he presented an astonishing range of work and accompanied players of many styles.
His new venture Trio Brasil, with his son Zoot on drums and Dudley Philips on bass guitar – and with the addition of the excellent saxophonist Mark Lockheart – is yet another milestone in Warren’s career. For the pianist’s concept of samba and bossa nova creates powerfully individual performances, stretching the medium beyond its basic dance beats but keeping faith with the joyful atmosphere of Brazilian music.
This was evident from the beginning of the performance, with Warren opening with an atmospheric piano solo played “out of time”, before kicking into a strong groove in a delightful workout on Hermeto Pascoal’s driving piece Papa Furado, Lockheart slowly emerging as the lead voice in the piece on soprano and building to a marvellous fiery crescendo with the sparks flying in all directions.
A samba by Joyce – Vatupa – had the saxophonist on tenor, with a softer, more breathy edge, but still projecting intense passion.
The highlight, for me, was another Pascoal tune – Briguinha – which Warren told the audience always reminded him of the Faulty Towers theme tune. I could see what he meant: the theme, while no delicate minuet a-la-Towers, is a series of even quaver notes almost without a break, a delicate challenge which Lockheart played faultlessly on soprano. But it was Warren’s own superb solo piano intro to this tune which made the greatest impact, his hands weaving complex complementary lines in rhythmically dynamic style. Far from reminding me of a comedy theme tune, this keyboard workout reminded me of the florid but captivating work of the French pianist Martial Solal.
Was this a perfect gig? Nearly. Bass guitarist Dudley Philips played excellently throughout the ensembles, but his own solo bass feature seemed to lack a sense of direction and evolution. And at the end, piano-and-bass interplay with drummer Zoot (another superb performer in the making) hovered too uneasily between an outright drum solo and decisive exchanges.
These are minor quibbles, though, for it was overall a thoroughly engaging performance by a band I want to hear much more of.
Categories: Live review