John Warren

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Reviews of John Warren


19/02/2010 John Fordham, The Guardian

The reputation of the expat Canadian composer John Warren rests mostly on some sumptuous big-band music under his own name in the early 1970s, fine writing for John Surman's larger groups, then influential teaching work in his adopted Yorkshire. Lately, though, he has had a promising resurgence with UK newcomers including Gwilym Simcock, and this set is the sequel to the 2008's Finally Beginning. Dreamlines is an instantly catchy opener, with its whirring, boppish melody over a tango, and Cool School horn counterpoint. Oh, What? is a deliciously wriggling piece of bop ensemble writing, shifting into fast swing for saxist Stan Sulzmann's mix of lightness and gravitas, and Simcock's flawless phrasing at any speed. Gerard Presencer's flugelhorn skims delicately through flute whispers on A Warm Front, the 17-bar blues I Couldn't Wait is a terrific piece of sly grooving, and Thelonious Monk's Eronel is presented as a vintage bop track turning into the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool ensemble sound, with other Monk themes folded cleverly in. Julian Siegel's lightness of touch and melodic originality and Mark Nightingale's vocal-toned muted trombone are the centrepieces of Above the Fourteenth Range. It's good to hear John Warren sauntering back to where he belongs.


06/01/2009 Chris Parker, The Vortex Website

For sheer elegance and uncontrived sophistication, composer John Warren, whether writing for big band, John Surman’s celebrated Brass Project, or as here for nonet, is difficult to beat, and the seven original compositions and one Monk arrangement (‘Ruby My Dear’) on this album are perfect examples of his art.
Personnel varies slightly between pieces, but is comprised of trumpeters Gerard Presencer (whose speed of execution and rapidity of thought are simply breathtaking) and Martin Shaw (unshowily powerful on ‘Winter Solstice’); pithy, characterful reedsmen Stan Sulzmann and Julian Siegel; Christian Brewer (heavily featured, producing some highly affecting alto playing, his slightly bruised dignity perfectly suited to Warren’s material); trombonist Mark Nightingale (sonorous and poised throughout); and four of the brightest and best of the rising UK jazz generation: vibes player Jim Hart, pianist Gwilym Simcock, bassist Phil Donkin and drummer James Maddren, all club regulars over the past couple of years.
Both Hart and Simcock provide characteristically fluent, graceful solos, but overall, despite the striking nature of individual contributions, this is unmistakably Warren’s album, his great strength being his ability to produce the art that conceals art, all his pieces imbued with the ease and naturalness that spring from unruffled musicianly assurance.
This is the first of two albums documenting music Warren has written for nonet, and a tour is planned for 2009; if this excellent album is anything to go by, both follow-up album and live dates promise much. Strongly recommended.


06/01/2009 Nic Jones, All About Jazz

John Warren is a veteran of the British jazz scene having turned in work with baritone sax player John Surman over the decades. He's here exclusively as a composer and arranger and responsible for the entire program of music, apart from a reading of Thelonious Monk's "Ruby My Dear" which falls right in with the overall ethos, even as it retains its individuality.
Warren is fortunate indeed in having been able to assemble a crack band to give life to his music. In that regard at least this nine, and sometimes ten-piece band, wants for nothing despite the many facets of Warren's music.
"Winter Solstice" makes this point in no uncertain terms and does so despite the piece's essential elegance. It's melancholy too, and that aspect is teased out via Gwilym Simcock's piano—he manages to catch the mood without evoking the spirit of Bill Evans which is a considerable trick—and Martin Shaw on flugelhorn. Christian Brewer's alto sax brings some heat in the midst of this winter, but the balance struck is still a fine one.
The cover of Thelonious Monk's "Ruby My Dear" is graced again by Brewer, though this time he's in more reflective mode. Warren's arrangement is winningly deft in the way he hews closely to the composer's spirit even while his own is all over the piece. It exemplifies also how skilled he is at judging the weight of the ensemble, an aspect of his work which in a sense echoes Gerry Mulligan's work, though again of course the comparison serves only to contextualise Warren's work.
The very sparseness of "Willow White" does the same, the melody 'sung' in apt fashion by trombonist Mark Nightingale. His solo is an urbane affair that retains just enough of the trenchant to keep it from mere elegance, whilst drummer James Maddren comes into his own in accompaniment.
The absence of soloists on the closing "Krank" has the effect of highlighting Warren's writing and in this instance, as in others, it turns out to be a model of economy. The music has room to manoeuvre and the impressionistic turns of bass, drums and vibes in particular make for some of the most distinctive music in a program that exudes both class and character in equal measure.


04/01/2009 John Fordham, The Guardian

There's a wry quality to the title, since ex pat Canadian composer John Warren has been an insider's favourite since the 1970s, though he has remained a peripheral figure, principally devoted to teaching. Fellow teacher-composer Issie Barratt's new Fuzzy Moon label has caught him with an A-list big band including pianist Gwilym Simcock, trumpeter Gerard Presencer, tenor saxophonists Julian Siegel and Stan Sulzmann, and one of this year's emerging young stars, drummer James Maddren. The legacy of Miles Davis with Gil Evans is strong here - particularly in the softly contrapuntal music of Birth of the Cool - but Warren's ideas are his own, and the soloing is as classily uplifting as the lineup would suggest. Lopsided is a rhythmic exercise in interlocking short phrases, making subtle use of the lustrous sound of Sulzmann's tenor, Simcock's churning piano figures and Jim Hart's gleaming vibes. Monk's Ruby My Dear (the only non-original) starts with Simcock's quiet piano disguising the theme before Brewer's tender alto unveils it. Some Sketchy Spanish deliberately references the street-parade soliloquy from Miles's Sketches of Spain - though it crosses to the wilder side with Siegel's whirling soprano sax. It's a jazzers' tribute to an old tradition, but it's lovingly done.


03/01/2009 Brian Priestley

Although Canadian, Warren has been a fixture here for over 40 years, so the latest of his infrequent albums is rather bafflingly titled. What's more unusual it that, instead of the big-band writing we're used to, this is music from the last several decades created for a line-up of just five horns and four rhythm (including vibes). Names like Jim Hart, Gwilym Simcock, Gerard Presencer and Julian Siegel do much to fill out these charts, which are often simpler and sometimes more conventional than Warren's other output. One standard ('Ruby My Dear') testifying to his continuing interest in Monk, done as an excellent feature for altoist Christian Brewer, heard too on the tongue-in-cheek 'Some Sketchy Spanish' and the beautiful 'Winter Solstice' which also has a fine solo from trumpeter Martin Shaw.


02/01/2009 Selwyn Harris, Jazzwise Magazine

Veteran composer and bandleader John Warren leads a nonet that with a couple more players would have the makings of a great football team; it has a very good balance between youth and experience. Not only that but as far as quality is concerned this crew is as good as anything else in the straightahead UK jazz scene. This is the second release on the composer, arranger and educator Issie Barratt's Fuzzy Moon Records, a label that promises a few more classy UK ensemble recordings like this down the line. Warren, who's best known for his big band writing and collaborations with John Surman including the Brass Project, can write sophisticated arrangements that nevertheless sound very straight forward to the ear. The unfussy arrangements are in the 'cool' style and never cramp the soloists who are free to blow without feeling they're being swallowed up by backings overloaded with instructions. All eight tracks are originals aside from Monk's 'Ruby My Dear' that throughout features altoist Christian Brewer demonstrating his allegiance to Cannonball. The quartet of players from the younger generation: Hart, Simcock, Donkin and the astonishing drumming prospect, James Maddren, would be hard to match. Warren's 'Some Sketchy Spanish', with an unlikely furious but diverting Coltrane-like soprano sax solo from Julian Siegel, is a homage that needs no explanation.


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