Album reviews

The W (Bruno Heinen, Gene Calderazzo, Andrea Di Biase, Heidi Vogel) – ‘Portrait’

The W Portrait
(Ubuntu Music. Album review by Graham Spry)

For his first full-length studio album for Ubuntu Music, Portrait, London-based pianist and composer Bruno Heinen has gathered together a truly outstanding quartet he calls The W. As he told Sebastian in an interview in May 2022 (LINK BELOW), this name was chosen as “like the four equal lines that make up the letter W, the four of us come together as one in performance.” The album’s cover illustrates this with its four section grid that allocates equal space to each musician, perhaps in the style of the Beatles’ Let It Be album sleeve.

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The W Portrait album cover

The band’s drummer is New York-born Gene Calderazzo, a figure perhaps most familiar on the British jazz scene for his work with Julian Siegel. On double bass is Italian Andrea Di Biase, who was in a trio from late 2010 with Kenny Wheeler and Liam Noble. However, it is the wordless vocals from London-based singer Heidi Vogel, most famous as lead singer with The Cinematic Orchestra, that makes The W especially remarkable. There is an unmistakable Latin American quality to her voice, often reminiscent of Tania Maria, which comes from her appreciation of Brazilian composers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes.

Heinen’s own musical influences are apparent from the first track, For JT, a tribute to his mentor John Taylor, whose delicate touch on the keyboards Heinen captures perfectly and whose intricately structured compositions the tune emulates. This is also the track where Vogel sounds most like Taylor’s musical partner, Norma Winstone. The title of the album and its second track, Portrait, might seem to be a tribute to one of Bill Evans’ most famous albums, but the tune is influenced more by Evans’ approach to improvisation than by any of his compositions.

All the album’s tracks are composed by Heinen with the exception of Horace Silver’s Que Pasa, a refreshing rendition of the gorgeous original from Song for my Father, in which Vogel’s vocals glide over Heinen’s piano like a horn instrument. Vogel continues in this style on G71, which was inspired by an occasion in room G71 at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, where Heinen teaches, when he heard the unintended clash of the sounds of a rock drummer and an opera singer from adjacent rooms. This mixture of soaring vocals and a steady rhythm section may well be the sound that most typifies the album.

The quartet is accompanied on Gender Neutral and Rossi by the Waldstein String Quartet who are best known for performing Beethoven string quartets. Rossi is a tribute to Heinen’s grandfather who studied the music of Syrian Jews and wrote the spiritual composition on which the tune is based. There is something of the feel of Horace Silver on Nada Nuevo (‘Nothing New’), one of only three tunes on which Vogel doesn’t sing. The other two are Lee Valley, a delightful tune for a conventional piano trio that celebrates the East London park of the same name, and the final track The W, which is primarily led by Heinen on electric keyboard.

This album isn’t quite the first public appearance by The W. They appeared at Kings Place in March for International Women’s Day 2022 to perform Her Song. Although not included on the album, this song is a wonderful taste of their music (see video below). The band has a number of upcoming gigs across England and Wales over the next year. The official album launch will take place on 21 January 2023 at the 91 Living Room jazz club in Shoreditch.

LINK: Interview with Bruno Heinen and Heidi Vogel about The W

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