Awen Ensemble, Cadair Idris, New Soil ***1/2

Named after a mythology rich peak of Snowdonia you don't have to be a Welsh speaker at all to appreciate Cadair Idris. Partly because beyond the Welsh lyrics that are further interspersed with spoken word in English there is plenty of instrumental …

Published: 17 Apr 2024. Updated: 35 days.

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Named after a mythology rich peak of Snowdonia you don't have to be a Welsh speaker at all to appreciate Cadair Idris. Partly because beyond the Welsh lyrics that are further interspersed with spoken word in English there is plenty of instrumental prowess on display - 'Ionawr' from Cadair Idris was a track of the week on marlbank in February. Leeds based, this ''alternative folk jazz collective'' - the word ''Awen'' in their name means ''poetic inspiration'' - is infused by Amy Clark's fine Lauren Kinsella-esque vocals and yet these are only one element in a portfolio of approaches that the band come up with. Guitarist Ruari Graham is certainly impressive on 'Idris' and when Clark sings in English on 'Unsettled' you'd swear counter intuitively that there's even an influence of Madonna in the timbre of her voice. 'Zorny' is the greatest of the tracks from a committed jazzhead's perspective. So, amen to an album that doesn't tightrope walk on eggshells among jazz and folk genres but proves more of the good mixer dipping in and out and not getting too hung up on what genre their explorations happen to land in. Ultimately the spoken word of 'Upon Leaving the Dream' - you can't but not think - is pure poetry.

Awen Ensemble play Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on 28 April.

Tags: ReviewsEnglishWelsh

Ross Hicks, Three Elms ***1/2

Just five pieces, a mini-album rather than an EP - feel the quality rather than the quantity certainly. By far the longest track is the final one of these, 'My First Time'. But who is Ross Hicks? According to his potted biography on Bandcamp …

Published: 17 Apr 2024. Updated: 35 days.

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Just five pieces, a mini-album rather than an EP - feel the quality rather than the quantity certainly. By far the longest track is the final one of these, 'My First Time'. But who is Ross Hicks? According to his potted biography on Bandcamp freelance pianist Hicks is ''Cardiff based'' and a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama who has gigged around South Wales in a variety of bands and has worked as a side player on a number of recordings. Hicks on Three Elms is with Guerilla Sound double bassist Nick Kaçal and drummer Alex Goodyear (who has played in the piano trio Yetii on 2022's Live at the Greenbank).

There is a grace and quiet authority about the title track, a hymnal sense that you can't really fake and certainly Hicks doesn't take any short cuts hiking towards the holy grail of beauteous euphony. On this track he makes us think of Daniel Karlsson a bit. The latinate clave driven 'Cuarentena' shakes things up - maybe a slight Chucho Valdés type influence there. All the tunes are Hicks' and he clearly is a writer not afraid to tap into his emotions given the way the music fizzes with life.

The long track at the end referred to in the first paragraph is easily the best of all these pieces - some of the shorter ones feel as if everything the trio has to say is being crammed in. Not so in the longest one where there is more of a sense of flow and detailed exploration. 'Short and Sombre' makes us think of the atmosphere on a Lars Danielsson melody - you know that piece 'Asta' on the Libera Me album? Obviously not that same piece or a rewrite of it all but the bittersweet effect is similiar. And a Dan Berglund-like solo from Kaçal on the same track works more than well on a recording that has strong Scandinavian influences most abidingly. Ross Hicks, photo: via Bandcamp