Huw Warren: Infinite Riches In A Little Room


On its release in 2001, John L Waters wrote in the Guardian that:-

This solo piano album already sounds like a classic.

It’s an album that has grown in stature the more I’ve listened to it, and one that never loses its freshness or its ability to reveal new treasures.

Huw Warren is a pianist and composer who, as his website states:-

…has achieved a reputation for innovative and eclectic music making over a twenty year career. Equally at home crossing the often exclusive worlds of Jazz, World and Folk and Contemporary music, he has a distinctive and personal voice. Known both for a lyrical beauty and a ferocious rhythmic energy, his own compositions have a gentle ironic wit underpinning them. Recent collaborations with musicians such as Mark Feldman, Maria Pia de Vito, Peter Herbert, Joanna Macgreggor, Theo Bleckmann , Pamela Thorby and Erik Truffaz.

I was introduced to him via his work with:-

…the award winning quartet Perfect Houseplants and his collaboration with English singer June Tabor.

(As an aside, after a hiatus of some years the fantastic Perfect Houseplants are playing gigs again, and as I found out last year when I saw them at the Kingfisher Way Festival, they are brilliant live – it was one of the best gigs of the year!)

The range of colours and expansiveness of musical ideas emerging from the fertile imagination of this great musician means the description ‘solo piano’ album is woefully inadequate. Here’s Waters again:-

[Warren sequences] the 16 tracks to create a wide variety of mood, tempo and timbre, using digital editing, synthesisers and samples to expand the basic sound source of a Steinway piano…Xibaba, by the great Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, is exuberant, with a punchy prepared-piano part. Charlie Parker’s bebop standard Moose the Mooche is transformed into asymmetric boogie-woogie with a touch of Conlon Nancarrow. Infinite Riches is still and contemplative, a kind of jazzy Howard Skempton. Loopy might remind you of a Jerry Goldsmith horror score before it settles into A-grade British modal composition. Quiet (R) Riot and . . . Still Dancing are aggressive solo versions of pieces commissioned by the six-piano new music ensemble Piano Circus. [On] Burke and Van Heusen’s Like Someone in Love, just 35 seconds from the end of the piece, he adds a percussive prepared-piano ostinato and a whistling synthesiser in the irreverent style of [Django] Bates’s Human Chain.

These are all fantastic pieces, but the ones I am increasingly drawn to are the:-

…suite of eight pieces based on John Dowland’s 1604 composition [Lachrymae]. This provides a rich and absorbing set of materials for Warren’s explorations: the formal, courtly nature of Dowland’s melodies provides a distinctive flavour for the improvisations.

Just listen to the suite’s opening track – Teares – and hear how the tender melody is developed so beautifully, with such exquisite voicings. As a total contrast, try the restless, insistence of track three – Unfit Guests – where a fragment of melody serves as the launchpad for mini improvisations which take fascinating musical forays, but are always brought back home by the repetition of the initial fragment. Or listen to the final track of the suite – True Teares – which begins like some murder mystery with its strange effects and unsettling harmonies (watch out for the sudden echoing bass, like a ghost has just walked into the room). Then hear how the piece gradually begins to draw itself together to end with a fragile, tentative restatement of the Dowland theme and a final bass note which this time brings resolution. Just fantastic!


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