I seem to be pairing musicians up for these little round ups and the connection between these two might seem a little tenuous. Firstly, their recordings have been with me for a while and secondly they are both dazzling demonstrations of the depth, quality and imagination of musicians on the current scene. Pianist, composer, arranger Hans Koller has been around for twenty five years or so, bass player Huw V Williams for maybe five.
Are triple album releases becoming a ‘thing’? Kamasai Washington’s much feted debut The Epic has been hard to miss. If Koller’s triple release on Stoney Lane Records, Retrospection, hasn’t attracted the same number of column inches that’s not a reflection on the quality of either the writing and arranging or the playing. All three albums have large ensembles of varying personnel, the third volume is a set with Germany’s NDR Big Band. Volume 1 has a twelve piece with Steve Swallow and Jeff Williams guesting, Volume 2 two guitars (Jakob Bro and Phil Robson), Brooklyn alto fiend John O’Gallagher and Christine Tobin‘s spine tingling vocal on a striking setting of a poem Half of Life. The mix is Koller originals and arrangements of jazz classics (Parker and Tristano get an airing) but Bach gets a turn and contemporaries like Jeff Williams. Koller’s stylistic erudition embraces the approaches of George Russell and Gil Evans and there’s playing to do it justice throughout. John Fordham sums it up as music for the mind and body and if its taken me a few months to find some words, well its a feast that’s best enjoyed at leisure (and on repeat).
Huw Williams’ album Hon may not be a triple (or a large ensemble), but it’s no less of a feast of music. It’s a set absolutely bursting with ideas that are realised with patience and conviction, the frequently anarchic collective energy notwithstanding. Stately, dance like themes, Laura Jurd‘s trumpet in counterpoint with Alam Nathoo‘s tenor, jostle next to stagey marching pieces with Elliot Galvin clattering all over with prepared piano. Swirling collective improvisations give way to what could be a cross-over between a punkish pulsing groover and a folk tune with swirling accordion. A Nod at a free-boppish theme morphs into visceral swing. Pete Ibbetson’s drives it all along from behind the kit shadowing every move of William’s earthy bass sound . The album pulls off with aplomb the trick of skipping lightly across styles, being deadly serious with a mischievous glint in the eye all the while. Its a treat. Did I mention the dazzling quality of the playing?