The Songs That Shaped My Life | Tomos Williams

The Songs That Shaped My Life | Tomos Williams

Tomos Williams leads the Welsh jazz/folk band Burum and the Indo-Welsh band Khamira. Here he presents the twenty songs that mean more to him than any other, with a bit of background on each one.

“Music is deeper than Philosophy”

What Ludwig van Beethovan actually said is “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents”, but I’m happy to use Cornel West’s paraphrase from one of the albums featured below. There’s a lot of music in this playlist. Music that has influenced or impacted me in some way or another over the years. I’ve written some short notes to go with each song choice – read them if you’d like, or just let the music speak for itself!

Medeski, Martin and Wood – Uninvisible

Some bands are made for ‘streaming’ music. MMW are one – there are always one or two absolute gems on their albums. This is the opening track, and the best from their album Uninvisible. Billy Martin’s distinctive baggy, loose drumming groove is just too cool.

Pete Rock and CL Smooth – TROY (They Reminisce Over You)

I came to this track late – it was released in the early 90s – but I didn’t get to it until around 2006. I always new that the album Mecca and the Soul Brothers was meant to be a classic – and it is.

Dave Holland – Conference of the Birds

Recorded for ECM in 1972, this is one of Wolverhampton born Holland’s greatest statements. Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton chirrup and flutter on flute and soprano sax – and dig that marimba solo!

Miles Davis – Joshua

The first of my Miles selections. I had to include this rhythm section – Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums), (who was 17 when this was recorded), are arguably the greatest rhythm section of all time. This band went on to become the ‘second great quintet’ when Wayne Shorter joined them on saxophone. At this point though, it was George Coleman on tenor, who I almost prefer since he plays it straight and more ‘in the pocket’. Miles smears and glides all over the place on this one too. A classic live track full of harmonic sophistication, invention and fire. Burnin’!

Lee Morgan – The Gigolo

This is how a trumpet should be played! Loud, funky, brash and drenched in the blues. Lee Morgan is largely neglected these days, but a new documentary (released in 2016 and now available on Netflix) tracing his music and tragic death, I Called Him Morgan, is beginning to rectify this. Morgan’s music epitomises the hard-bop of the early 1960s.

Gangstarr – DWYCK

One of the great hip-hop bass lines, and some great rapping. I’m assuming that Guru, and Nice and Smooth are freestyling on this one.

John Coltrane – Out of this World

Another indispensable band, and another possibility for the greatest band in jazz history. Every member bought an unique and distinctive sound on his instrument, augmented by Coltrane’s incredible intent and spirituality. McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.

Terence Blanchard – Winding Roads

This is from the album Choices (2009) which must be one of the best jazz albums of the 2000s. Blanchard is a native of New Orleans and here he intersperses tracks with quotes from conversations he held with Dr. Cornel West, the eminent African-American philosopher and cultural critic. What a combination; tremendous compositions, band interplay at the highest level, powerful solos and passages of spoken word. No one has a turn of phrase quite like brother Cornel West -”I can’t conceive of a great musician who has not explored the highest levels of creative engagement with their craft, at the level of form and content and the level of style and substance”.

Tomasz Stanko – Litania

Polish trumpeter Stanko is an artist and poet as much as a musician – music just happens to be his form of communication. He’s released numerous highly acclaimed albums on ECM, but this album, playing the music of his Polish compatriot Krystof Komeda, with a band of heavyweight European musicians is always my go-to record. Heavy.

Fernhill – Whilia

Julie Murphy and Ceri Rhys Matthews have been massive influences on my musical development, introducing me to all sorts of music – not least Welsh folk music. I joined Fernhill shortly after the release of this CD, and have played with them for the past 15 years. Julie has a unique voice that comes straight from the soul.

Horace Silver – Song For My Father

This is where it all began for me, with this Blue Note classic. Horace got me hooked on jazz in my teens – I’d never heard anything like Joe Henderson’s sax solo. This was also one of the earliest tunes that I used to play with my brother Daniel on sax with the enthusiastic encouragement of (Sir) Deian Hopkin on piano – we were the baddest cats in Aberystwyth…

Larry Young – Softly as in a Morning Sunrise

Another Blue Note Classic. Joe Henderson on sax again, with the incredible Woody Shaw on trumpet, playing some fiery, crazy in n’ out pentatonic patterns. Elvin Jones slashing and thrashing, driving the whole thing on drums, with Larry Young playing the whirling B3 Hammond as far away from JTQ as you can get. And the bass line? That’s played by Larry’s feet. Magnificent.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Snakes

Founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, ODB bought a whole new vibe to hip-hop. His solo album Return to the 36 Chambers (1995) is up there with Wu-Tang’s debut Enter the Wu-Tang (1993). This song has all the trappings of classic Wu – RZA production, stop-start storytelling, multiple rappers and ODB’s unique vibe and delivery.

Miles Davis – Solea

Miles recorded three incomparable albums as a soloist with the Gil Evans Orchestra. ‘Solea’ is from the third album, Sketches of Spain (1960). Great orchestration from Gil Evans and Miles soloing for 12 minutes, floating and soaring right on top of the orchestra. Glorious.

Miles Davis – Duran

I could have chosen 20 Miles tracks in this playlist – and they’d all have been different and valid choices. This is from Miles’s ‘rock’ fusion phase of the early ’70s. Miles is aggressive and maximalist with his full tone and powerful range, John Mc Laughlin plays ‘some raunchy shit’ (that’s Miles’ talking at the end) while the groove laid down by Dave Holland and Billy Cobham is equally raunchy.

Llio Rhydderch – Glwysen

Llio Rhydderch’s music makes me want to sing, dance and cry all at the same time. It’s deep music, music that ‘contains multitudes’, and also music that is somehow undeniably ‘Welsh’ (whatever that means). Julie and Ceri from Fernhill introduced me to Llio and her music – I’d never heard of the ‘triple harp’ and didn’t know that it had such a strong Welsh connection.

Llio toured Wales with Burum back in 2008, and she insisted on sitting next to Mark O’Connor, our drummer – which says a lot about how she hears and feels music. I think of Llio as the Bill Evans of Welsh folk music – she has touch, taste, style and brings a lot of natural harmonic knowledge and improvisation into her performances. I had the pleasure of recording a CD with Llio in 2012, Carn Ingli, a duo of trumpet and triple harp with drums joining us on a few tracks. Llio is the hidden gem of Welsh music and the living embodiment of the Welsh folk tradition.

Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil

There’s always a lot of cross-pollination between jazz musicians – and the line up on this album is mouth-watering. Take Miles’ aforementioned second great quintet – Wayne, Herbie, Ron – but replace Miles with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet (I had to get Freddie into this playlist) and add Elvin Jones (yes, him again) on drums. Recorded on Christmas Eve 1964, another Blue Note classic.

Kendrick Lamar – i

Kendrick Lamar saved hip-hop! Burning with social, political and racial commentary, Kendrick Lamar produced a work of art that transcends hip-hop and is a statement of our time. While Kamasi Washington’s much hyped jazz The Epic (2015) released around the same time was essentially nostalgic and regressive – every aspect of To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) justified the hype and broke new ground. I’d pretty much given up on the relevance of ‘mainstream’ hip-hop, but Kendrick’s genius shows that hip-hop lives!

Vijay Iyer – Far from Over

I finish this playlist with two of the best jazz releases of 2017. Vijay Iyer is on an incredible productive streak and is at his creative peak. Both his previous releases have been different but amongst the best releases of that year. His piano trio Break Stuff in 2015, his duet A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke with Wadada Leo Smith in 2016, and now Far From Over with his sextet. This is cutting edge modern jazz at its finest, packed with creative musicians playing as an ensemble yet bringing their individual identities to the project. Indispensable modern music.

Harriett Tubman – The Spiral Path to the Throne

And then this. Is there a hipper band on the planet at the moment than Harriett Tubman? An electric power trio, augmented here by the intense playing of septuagenarian trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith (who is also in the midst of a creative peak). Angular, fierce, visceral – another definitive statement on where we’re at, taken from their astonishing 2017 release Araminta.


Khamira are about to embark on their second tour of India in January 2018 as a part of the UK/India 2017 series of events funded by British Council Wales and Wales Arts International. Khamira also toured Wales in May 2017.