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Huw Warren trio, Dylan Howe Quartet – Future Inn, Feb

March 2, 2011

Late note on two more visits to the city’s nicest venue. Huw Warren’s piano trio date, a couple of weeks back now (Feb 20) was outstanding. Closely meshed with long-standing co-performers Martin France and Dudley Philips on bass, he gave us a set drawing mainly from the recent superb Hermeto+ CD (which features Peter Herbert on bass). That meant Hermeto Pascoal compositions, interspersed with some of Warren’s own, and a pleasing variety of mood and approach. Pascoal’s writing, in particular, is so good it almost confers an unfair advantage. Whimsical riffs, skipping dance tunes, affecting ballads, sparkling up tempo lines – he has it all, and all marked by a splendid sense of musical playfulness that makes you want to hear what is coming next.

So did the trio, roaming effortlessly through the possibilities of the format – sounding at one moment as irresistible as Jarrett (and as good) at others as thrillingly close-knit as Evans with LaFaro and Motian, at others still simply like a team who have digested the entire tradition and used it to make something new. There is an ever-growing list of world class piano trios at work in the UK, and much excitement about relative newcomers like Simcock and Kit Downes, and half a dozen others. Warren gets less attention, I think, but is every bit as good, and sounds more fully developed. A real treat.

Dylan Howe’s appearance (Feb 27), during what by jazz standards is a mammoth 40-plus date UK tour – seven more to go –  was also impressive, in its way. A small (well not that many for Warren either, sadly, so lets say even smaller) crowd heard a committed and very together set mixing mainly Blue Note era standards with a few David Bowie tunes – complete with synth backdrop.

The whole thing is energised by Howe’s quiveringly eager, right on top of the beat drumming. You are never in any doubt whose band this is. I found this just a trifle wearing, preferring drummers who favour a more relaxed swing, at least some of the time. He can play ballads – and brushes – of course, and reacts in a microsecond, but less is more is never going to be his slogan.

Interesting set, though. Only drawback was that the compositions they play mean invoking people who have played at the highest level – Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane – so continually invite comparison with those players. A touring British quartet, however skillfull,  are going to come off worse if your mind turns in that direction. I don’t mean Brits can’t play good jazz, but few players, anywhere, can match Henderson, for example.

That inevitably meant mixed results, and made it harder, for me anyway, to concentrate on what they were actually doing, as opposed to recalling what their predecessors had done. A go at Coltrane’s After the Rain, for instance, seemed not such a good idea, a clever arrangement of Parker’s Segment much better, and it provoked a convincing solo from tenor man Brandon Allen. The Bowie tunes were a welcome change, and grooved along nicely.

So a first set with lots to think about. Afraid we snuck home after that – through fatigue at the end of a long weekend rather than disinclination to hear more. Although, looking back, I seem to recall being just as tired the previous Sunday, but Huw Warren and co kept us transfixed right through a lengthy second set. The difference between the unmissable and the merely good.


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