Huw V Williams’ Hon storms The Vortex

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On a rainy evening in Dalston, 21 October – ‘Back To The Future Day’ – five young improvisers converge on the intimate upstairs room at The Vortex. Hon is led by bassist Huw V Williams, with Elliot Galvin on piano and accordion, Laura Jurd on trumpet, Alam Nathoo on tenor sax and Pete Ibbetson on drums. With such a strong line-up of visionary young players, this was something to be excited about. We were not disappointed as the 10-tune set unfolded with impressionistic compositions and confident solos, all with gripping narratives.

After an ‘in-your-face’ opener, ’06/01/14’, it seemed like we were in for full-on free improv throughout, but the second tune, ’Rotten Apple Boughs’, grew from a sultry horn melody, undercut by unsettling ripples from Galvin’s accordion. Many of Williams’ compositions have a poetic undercurrent, recalling Mingus’ style of painting with sound, as in a ‘A Foggy Day’. However, it would be impossible to pin this music down in a definitive way, so mercurial is Williams’ writing. Next up, ‘Skardu’ was a heavy groover, mad professor Galvin stealing the show with a brilliantly percussive piano solo, using the instrument in every way possible, playing with sound.

The audience was treated to a collage of blaring, rocky themes, fluid bebop lines, and hints of bossa nova with ‘Walabur’. Galvin even slipped in a tongue-in-cheek quote from ‘Girl From Ipanema’ during another blinding solo, while the others revelled in the energy of the music, Jurd laughing, Nathoo concentrating hard.

The intensity was sustained after the interval, and the solos got even better. We couldn’t concentrate on anything else when Laura Jurd took a solo, such on the tune ‘Slumps’, which jumps in and out of double time. The sheer inventiveness and overall coherency of her playing, with solos that always have a story to tell, makes it a treat to listen to her on the stand. Later, Nathoo brought his beautifully round sound to bear on the funky ‘Mugs’, and was then joined by Jurd for a double solo that took the heat up to boiling point, melodic lines flying all over the place.

The interplay between musicians was great to see and hear; the band is cohesive. Williams is a strong leader, holding things down and pushing things forward, locking in with Ibbetson. Nathoo and Jurd also made a strong horn section, blending together beautifully on the heads; they are fully aware of the other’s space, even when they took up contrapuntal lines or cam back in from solos. Galvin’s part was particularly compelling because he added depth through texture. He explored sonic ideas fearlessly, if not frantically, on both accordion and piano, the latter of which he prepared with all manner of objects such as mini-boules and duct tape. The accordion should not be underestimated, as it creates a unique atmosphere, almost creepy at times.

Williams’ compositions fuse sounds from across the musical timeline, and like those his peers in the Chaos Collective, they expand the horizons of jazz and improvised music. Hon is highly recommended for its freshness in composition, great chemistry and perhaps more importantly, its sense of fun. All the players on stage were into what they were doing, and so was everyone in the audience.

– Marlowe Heywood-Thornes