Bannau Trio – Points of View
(Whirlwind WR4645 . CD Review by Sarah Chaplin)
Nia Lynn’s second trio album, recorded live at the Forge and this time on the Whirlwind Recordings label, showcases a more diverse and eclectic range of material than The Bannau Trio’s début album from 2006. But it’s not really what they’ve chosen to record that makes it stand out, nor the freshness of appeal that the combination of voice, flutes and piano has to offer, it’s more the remarkable expertise of the musicianship and the subtle interactions in their playing that really bring it all to life.
Lynn has an impressive vocal range – from angelic upper register to velvety contralto – and uses it to great contrasting effect, wafting in with high, wordless phrases on the light, airy opening song Renewal, and then performing a gutsy low-down version of Tom Waits’ song Soldier’s Things. I was struck not just by Lynn’s flawless ease across this range, but also the variations in tonal quality she can effect with her voice, and especially her ability to match the flute and piano so closely that, when she chooses to, they sound like one chordal instrument.
However, this album, like the band’s name, isn’t really about about Lynn so much as the fusion achieved by these three musicians at work. Ross Stanley on piano creates a mesmerising flow of ideas – whether soloing or accompanying – and in any case he never just switches from one mode to the other, but rather blends his contribution selflessly throughout, a perfect foil for voice and flute. Add to that the wizardry that is Gareth Lockrane on flutes, often heard here playing bass flute, but equally exemplary and at ease on flute, alto flute and piccolo, and you have a winning combo.
Norma Winstone joins the throng for a Nikki Iles’ song – Upon the Hill – which starts like a Welsh hymn, and is soothingly restrained with delicious solos. Lynn’s own writing references Winstone’s influence but also draws on her own Welsh roots, and is often suffused with folk. With Two points of view we get Nia’s lyrics and a Gwilym Simcock tune, providing plenty of space for the musicians to manoeuvre and do their stuff. For me, the stand out track of the album is Harriet by John Lee. Its unusual structure and unexpected harmonic progressions deliver some truly magical playing from Stanley and Lockrane.
The lovely standard Who Can I Turn to and the Bernstein song Some other time are both performed very effectively and with great aplomb. In Lynn’s hands both tunes are genuinely heartfelt, and she really brings out the lyrics. Even more personal and evocative is her own song Lonely Ghosts – refreshingly poised at the edge of jazz idiom, and conveying a sense of hovering over a vivid landscape.
Towards the end of the album, I was starting to think that there hadn’t been a really groove-orientated tune, and then you arrive at the trio’s last song Precious – which is far from it – Stanley sets up some low power chords and you get this burgeoning muscular feel that voice and flute can weave in and out of. The tune has real drive and verve to it, and is a welcome contrast to some of the more ethereal offerings on the album.
Overall it’s a record with a lot of daylight filtering through it, ideal listening when you’ve got up early, before anyone else. Who knows, with this Bannau Trio album for company, that’s something I might even do more often.