Huw V Williams – Equidistant Between
(Self-release. Album review by AJ Dehany)
“I evolve,” he says, “but I don’t… revolve…”
At a time when every man of a certain age has deliberately turned into Alan Partridge, it’s a little ‘on the nose’ to name your album after a classic Partridge-ism. Steve Coogan’s fictional TV presenter lives in what he calls a ‘travel tavern’ of which he says, “The great thing about this hotel is its situation. It’s equidistant between London and Norwich.”
Whether or not you find this sort of thing hilarious, the pedantry, mundanity and aching specificity of “equidistant between” gives Welsh bassist Huw V Williams’ new trio album its title and some clue to the dry wit and reflexive thinking of its maker. Some of the titles are very self-aware, even self-conscious – like Retrogressive Shredfest. Others yearn for clarity in a world of spin and ambiguity, such as Vague Means Vague which alludes to a forgettable soundbite from Theresa May.
Fortunately, you can take or leave the political references, because ultimately Music Means Music, so let’s talk about that. The trio of Huw V Williams on bass with Devin Gray on drums and George Crowley on reeds, is perfection. I find it hard to imagine anyone who likes modern jazz not liking this. It’s a sweet balance of loose and tight, gently modernistic in its language and rolling out a fantastic vibe. The mix gives a great room sense with subtle resonances across the stereo image. Sound production is imperceptible. What goes down is presented dynamically so at times the sax or the bass might take the spot with a natural dramatic sense captured without distracting sonic fiddling. Seemingly every album I love has printed on it “recorded at Fish Factory and mixed by Alex Bonney”. At risk of world-beating hyperbole, for some of us that’s the Rudy Van Gelder Blue Note House of our time.
The trio format gives concentrated scope to the range and power of Crowley’s playing on the tenor, from contained low notes to well-formed high notes with sparing vibrato and a consummate sense of style. On 13/01/18 he moves to clarinet, which you don’t hear him play much, if ever, and he’s wonderful. The purer timbre of the clarinet shorn of the squawk and power of the tenor sax makes you more aware of Crowley’s note choices, always jazz but here edging into the feel of contemporary classical.
Boiling Problems leads with agitated bowing from Huw V Williams, who is an ideal bassman-as-bandleader, both expressive and respectfully commanding. This particular “dirge” is, he says, named after the “elusive search for the runny yolk”. That’s an unlikely but apt way of illustrating a key problem in this kind of music between the firm flesh of composition and technique and the runny mess of improvisation and the unknown. I say this wearing the ridged hat of the music critic, but I’m self-conscious enough to wonder if he’s pulling my leg.
All compositions are Williams’ own. Print Reaction has recognisable head that reminds me of classic Dolphy. 23/03/18 is a killer groove over 45 rapid seconds that leaves you wanting much, much more. Incredibly, it was all recorded in one session, and during a heat wave, literally, which seems musically apt. Equidistant Between is a four-to-four-and-a-half star album but I wish it were less good. It’s torture to me that I can’t just quote another classic Partridge line (again concerning his travel tavern) and say “It’s not 3-star, but it’s certainly competitive”.
AJ Dehany is based in London and locked down in Teesside, and writes independently about music, art and stuff.
Equidistant Between will be available from July 17 on Bandcamp