369

Lleuwen Steffan: Duw A Wyr

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Lleuwen Steffan: Duw A Wyr While black American gospel music has been a core ingredient in the jazz gumbo since slaves gathered to sing and dance in Congo Square, devotional music from other cultures has remained generally unheard. But as we know, with jazz no longer an exclusively American art form, things are changing, and musicians from all over are bringing their own socio-cultural traditions to the party, including their sacred music.

In retrospect, Jan Garbarek's '93 collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble, Officium, was a milestone in this deepening internationalism—and, sometime between registering the sleeve art of Duw A Wyr, a radical and radiantly beautiful album from the 24-year-old Welsh singer Lleuwen Steffan, and first playing the music, it's likely that Officium will flash through your mind. Both albums are built around liturgical vocal music, with saxophone improvisations eliding in and out of the voices.

These are, however, only surface similarities. Duw A Wyr is distinct from its predecessor in two crucial respects. It's warm music, which Steffan sings as though singing love songs, and it's music that was first sung by working people. Where Officium used canons and plainchants sung by the educated European elite in the fourteenth century and filtered them through a rarified Nordic mist, the source material for Duw A Wyr is richly melodic, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes in pain, sung into folk history by proto-socialist miners during the Welsh religious revival of 1904-05.

The miners had dirt under their fingernails, and their eyes fixed on a better world, and—even though you won't understand the actual words here unless you're a Welsh speaker—you can hear these things in the music. (The synergies with Congo Square are marked, but probably shouldn't be overstated. Bad though their lot was, the Welsh miners were infinitely more fortunate than the slaves of Louisiana.)

As a double bonus, Duw A Wyr has considerable in-the-tradition jazz content—a tradition that pianist Huw Warren (who also produces, wonderfully, with a masterful sense of space) and saxophonist Mark Lockheart have of course been adept in transforming since both played with Loose Tubes in the '80s. They delight as accompanists, and also on two purely instrumental duets, the slow burn to passion of "Maracesh" and more meditative "God Only Knows."

Steffan herself, blessed with a voice of archetypal Welsh beauty—simultaneously heavenly and earthy, a true soul whammy—is primarily a jazz singer, and she brings the slides, slurs and blue notes of her early formative influence Billie Holiday to the material, where they fit to perfection. Music born in the valleys, but bound for Zion.


Track Listing: Ebeneser; Durrow; Yn Y Glyn/Maracesh; Gwahoddiad; Dryniau Cassia; Duw A Wyr/God Only Knows; Pen Calfaria; Henryd/Rhiwlas; Mil Harddach.

Personnel: Lleuwen Steffan: voice; Huw Warren: piano, accordion, percussion; Mark Lockheart: saxophones, bass clarinet.

Title: Duw A Wyr | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Babel Label


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read BACHanalia CD/LP/Track Review BACHanalia
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 24, 2017
Read Hallways CD/LP/Track Review Hallways
by Paul Rauch
Published: June 24, 2017
Read The Crave CD/LP/Track Review The Crave
by John Sharpe
Published: June 24, 2017
Read Chase The Light (Excursions in Soul, Reggae, Funk, and Dub) CD/LP/Track Review Chase The Light (Excursions in Soul, Reggae, Funk, and Dub)
by Joe Gatto
Published: June 24, 2017
Read Kickin' Child - The Lost Album 1965 CD/LP/Track Review Kickin' Child - The Lost Album 1965
by Doug Collette
Published: June 24, 2017
Read Towards Language CD/LP/Track Review Towards Language
by John Eyles
Published: June 23, 2017
Read "Twin Talk" CD/LP/Track Review Twin Talk
by Mark F. Turner
Published: September 19, 2016
Read "King of the Blues" CD/LP/Track Review King of the Blues
by Jack Bowers
Published: July 27, 2016
Read "The Wild" CD/LP/Track Review The Wild
by Jerome Wilson
Published: March 15, 2017
Read "Enter the PlusTet" CD/LP/Track Review Enter the PlusTet
by Troy Collins
Published: October 23, 2016
Read "Town And Country" CD/LP/Track Review Town And Country
by Jerome Wilson
Published: June 21, 2017
Read "Blues, Preludes and Feuds" CD/LP/Track Review Blues, Preludes and Feuds
by Geannine Reid
Published: November 22, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.