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Gwilym Simcock - Blues Vignette Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Simcock's most impressive work to date

Pianist Gwilym Simcock is one of the most lauded young musicians to have emerged in the UK in recent years. Straddling both the jazz and classical genres Simcock has worked with the similarly inclined Acoustic Triangle as well as appearing with leading jazz and classical artists from both the UK and abroad. He was the first Radio 3 New Generation Jazz Artist and has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards from the BBC and other august institutions.

Simcock is a very busy boy but amazingly this is only his second recording as leader. The first “Perception” (2007) was a typically wide ranging offering within the jazz field made with a core trio of Phil Donkin (bass) and Martin France (drums). This latest offering, the ambitious double album “Blues Vignette” is a more conscious attempt to bring Simcock’s two musical worlds together. The first disc comprises of eight solo piano pieces, some of them entirely improvised together with a suite for cello and piano composed by Simcock and played by him together with the cellist Cara Berridge. The second disc finds Simcock in the company of his new jazz trio with Russian bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev and rising drum star James Maddren.  Simcock chooses not to differentiate between “jazz” and “classical”, to him it is “just music, and the type that interests and stimulates me”.

He goes on to remark “What I feel is important in music is lyricism, subtlety and clarity in harmonic and rhythmic movement plus an overall sense of an emotional connection with the listener, whatever the context of the music may be.” Listening to “Blues Vignette” it is clear that Simcock has put his money where his mouth is. These recordings consistently engage the listener and are of the highest musical and technical standards. The crystalline sound engineer and co-producer Curtis Schwartz gets from Simcock’s piano is amazing and an important factor in the album’s success. Simcock sounds good in all three contexts and his writing is his most mature to date with some judiciously selected outside material completing the programme. 

The solo disc features Simcock playing solo piano and covering an impressive range of moods and contexts. His own “Little People” is engagingly melodic and sometimes seems to draw on folk sources for it’s ideas. An “Exploration on Movement II” of Grieg’s Piano Concerto is serene and unhurried and brings out the full beauty of the composer’s melody. Simcock resists the temptation to add conspicuous jazz influences and the subsequent mood is elegiac, almost hymn like. By contrast the standard “On Broadway” is thoroughly outgoing and playful with Simcock using the instrument’s body and innards for percussive effects.

During the recording sessions Simcock recorded a number of solo piano improvisations. He has chosen three of these and scheduled them back to back here. The final selections were chosen for their overall feel rather than for the virtuosity of the playing. Although entirely improvised shape and form were the predominant factors in the final cut. The three pieces show Simcock at his most Jarrett like, gracefully conveying complex musical ideas but doing so in a manner that makes emotional sense. Mood and colour is important in these final choices through the sombre “Statues” to the calming “Be Still Now” via the knotty complexities of “Letter To The Editor”.
The gently unfolding Simcock composition “Caldera” is quietly beautiful and “Jaco and Joe” presumably a homage to Messrs. Pastorius and Zawinul is a melodic and sometimes exuberant tribute to the former Weather Report alumni.

Simcock’s two part “Suite For Cello and Piano” brings together his jazz and classical leanings, composition and improvisation, in one homogeneous whole. The piece features the cello of Cara Berridge from the Sacconi String Quartet who collaborated with Acoustic Triangle on their “3 Dimensions” album and tour. Like many modern classical string musicians Berridge is comfortable with the concept of improvising and Simcock affords her plenty of space here. There is a clear musical chemistry between the pair and the balance between composition and improvisation on the suite is wholly successful.

The melancholy ring of Berridge’s cello contrasts well with Simcock’s crystalline piano and the piece is thoroughly absorbing even for dyed in the wool jazz listeners. The lengthy first half (just short of the fifteen minute mark) “Kinship” unfolds slowly and features Berridge playing pizzicato as well as with the bow. Sometimes solemn but never dull the two instruments conjure up an impressive range of textures.  The second part “Homeward” is Sumptuous and more obviously “classical” but taken as a whole the suite is an ambitious and impressive piece of work.

The second trio disc with Goloubev and Maddren is more jazz orientated but the Stunning arco work of Goloubev, a one time classical and chamber music bassist provides a link to the classical world. Such is the lightness and virtuosity of his work with the bow that his bass sometimes sounds uncannily like Berridge’s cello. This can be heard on “Introduction” the first piece on the second disc. Simcock describes Goloubev’s approach to his instrument as “orchestral” and that summation is certainly borne out here as Goloubev also demonstrates his abilities as a pizzicato player in the traditional jazz manner.
“Introduction” is a rather sombre point of entry for the second disc with Maddren’s contribution amounting only to some delicate shading. The drummer is more prominent on the following “Tundra”, a more conventional jazz piano trio piece with an attractive Jarrett like lyricism about it, allied to a probing exploratory spirit that stretches a captivating theme into interesting new shapes.

“Blues Vignette” itself is constantly shifting in mood and pace,Simcock’s riffs and grooves alternate with Goloubev’s rich dark bowed passages. It’s impressive stuff that bears comparison with the work of the world’s best piano trios-Mehldau, Jarrett and of course the UK’s own John Taylor, a one time Simcock mentor and collaborator.

Goloubev’s powerful plucking drives Simcock’s arrangement of Sonny Burke’s “Black Coffee”. As elsewhere Maddren’s delightfully detailed drumming is a delight. Always flexible, intelligent and supportive the young drummer plays with a maturity beyond his years. Constantly in demand he has recently appeared on a clutch of excellent recordings often working with other pianists. Recent examples of his work with Kit Downes and Ivo Neame can be found elsewhere on this site.

Following the propulsive grooves of “Black Coffee” the epic Simcock original “Longing To Be”  comes as something of a contrast. The piece has a dark lyricism courtesy of Goloubev’s bowed intro and Simcock’s stately piano. Goloubev features without the bow too (his pizzicato playing is easily the match of his distinguished arco work) and Maddren is customarily sympathetic throughout. Simcock stretches out at length on yet another impressive piece of original work.

Two contrasting Simcock arrangements of standards follow. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” is a joyous, full on exploration taken at a fair clip and with Simcock whooping along Jarrett style to his improvisations. “Cry Me A River” is in slowed down ballad form with Simcock making maximum use of space supported by Maddren’s delicate brushwork and Goloubev’s resonant but lyrical bass. On both these pieces and throughout the album the trio display a high level of understanding that bodes well for the future.

Simcock wraps things up with an original composition entitled “1981”, the year of his birth. The mood is largely celebratory and occasionally seems to nod in the direction of Pat Metheny, one of his earliest jazz influences. Goloubev features both with and without the bow, he moves comfortably between the two methods without any loss of fluency and Maddren’s drumming is neatly energetic and consistently inventive. With an outgoing performance from Simcock himself this is an exhilarating way to conclude an excellent double album.

“Blues Vignette” is a superb achievement, impressive in it’s scope and ambition and flawless in it’s execution. Considering there is well over two hours music here there are very few longueurs and the synthesis between Simcock’s jazz and classical tendencies sounds thoroughly natural and unforced.

This is Simcock’s most impressive work to date, even better than the very good but sometimes derivative “Perception” and his current trio has the potential to become one of the best. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing them when they visit The Edge in Much Wenlock in the New Year (20th February 2010). For details of other dates see http://www.gwilymsimcock.com.

Blues Vignette

Gwilym Simcock

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Blues Vignette

Simcock's most impressive work to date

Pianist Gwilym Simcock is one of the most lauded young musicians to have emerged in the UK in recent years. Straddling both the jazz and classical genres Simcock has worked with the similarly inclined Acoustic Triangle as well as appearing with leading jazz and classical artists from both the UK and abroad. He was the first Radio 3 New Generation Jazz Artist and has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards from the BBC and other august institutions.

Simcock is a very busy boy but amazingly this is only his second recording as leader. The first “Perception” (2007) was a typically wide ranging offering within the jazz field made with a core trio of Phil Donkin (bass) and Martin France (drums). This latest offering, the ambitious double album “Blues Vignette” is a more conscious attempt to bring Simcock’s two musical worlds together. The first disc comprises of eight solo piano pieces, some of them entirely improvised together with a suite for cello and piano composed by Simcock and played by him together with the cellist Cara Berridge. The second disc finds Simcock in the company of his new jazz trio with Russian bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev and rising drum star James Maddren.  Simcock chooses not to differentiate between “jazz” and “classical”, to him it is “just music, and the type that interests and stimulates me”.

He goes on to remark “What I feel is important in music is lyricism, subtlety and clarity in harmonic and rhythmic movement plus an overall sense of an emotional connection with the listener, whatever the context of the music may be.” Listening to “Blues Vignette” it is clear that Simcock has put his money where his mouth is. These recordings consistently engage the listener and are of the highest musical and technical standards. The crystalline sound engineer and co-producer Curtis Schwartz gets from Simcock’s piano is amazing and an important factor in the album’s success. Simcock sounds good in all three contexts and his writing is his most mature to date with some judiciously selected outside material completing the programme. 

The solo disc features Simcock playing solo piano and covering an impressive range of moods and contexts. His own “Little People” is engagingly melodic and sometimes seems to draw on folk sources for it’s ideas. An “Exploration on Movement II” of Grieg’s Piano Concerto is serene and unhurried and brings out the full beauty of the composer’s melody. Simcock resists the temptation to add conspicuous jazz influences and the subsequent mood is elegiac, almost hymn like. By contrast the standard “On Broadway” is thoroughly outgoing and playful with Simcock using the instrument’s body and innards for percussive effects.

During the recording sessions Simcock recorded a number of solo piano improvisations. He has chosen three of these and scheduled them back to back here. The final selections were chosen for their overall feel rather than for the virtuosity of the playing. Although entirely improvised shape and form were the predominant factors in the final cut. The three pieces show Simcock at his most Jarrett like, gracefully conveying complex musical ideas but doing so in a manner that makes emotional sense. Mood and colour is important in these final choices through the sombre “Statues” to the calming “Be Still Now” via the knotty complexities of “Letter To The Editor”.
The gently unfolding Simcock composition “Caldera” is quietly beautiful and “Jaco and Joe” presumably a homage to Messrs. Pastorius and Zawinul is a melodic and sometimes exuberant tribute to the former Weather Report alumni.

Simcock’s two part “Suite For Cello and Piano” brings together his jazz and classical leanings, composition and improvisation, in one homogeneous whole. The piece features the cello of Cara Berridge from the Sacconi String Quartet who collaborated with Acoustic Triangle on their “3 Dimensions” album and tour. Like many modern classical string musicians Berridge is comfortable with the concept of improvising and Simcock affords her plenty of space here. There is a clear musical chemistry between the pair and the balance between composition and improvisation on the suite is wholly successful.

The melancholy ring of Berridge’s cello contrasts well with Simcock’s crystalline piano and the piece is thoroughly absorbing even for dyed in the wool jazz listeners. The lengthy first half (just short of the fifteen minute mark) “Kinship” unfolds slowly and features Berridge playing pizzicato as well as with the bow. Sometimes solemn but never dull the two instruments conjure up an impressive range of textures.  The second part “Homeward” is Sumptuous and more obviously “classical” but taken as a whole the suite is an ambitious and impressive piece of work.

The second trio disc with Goloubev and Maddren is more jazz orientated but the Stunning arco work of Goloubev, a one time classical and chamber music bassist provides a link to the classical world. Such is the lightness and virtuosity of his work with the bow that his bass sometimes sounds uncannily like Berridge’s cello. This can be heard on “Introduction” the first piece on the second disc. Simcock describes Goloubev’s approach to his instrument as “orchestral” and that summation is certainly borne out here as Goloubev also demonstrates his abilities as a pizzicato player in the traditional jazz manner.
“Introduction” is a rather sombre point of entry for the second disc with Maddren’s contribution amounting only to some delicate shading. The drummer is more prominent on the following “Tundra”, a more conventional jazz piano trio piece with an attractive Jarrett like lyricism about it, allied to a probing exploratory spirit that stretches a captivating theme into interesting new shapes.

“Blues Vignette” itself is constantly shifting in mood and pace,Simcock’s riffs and grooves alternate with Goloubev’s rich dark bowed passages. It’s impressive stuff that bears comparison with the work of the world’s best piano trios-Mehldau, Jarrett and of course the UK’s own John Taylor, a one time Simcock mentor and collaborator.

Goloubev’s powerful plucking drives Simcock’s arrangement of Sonny Burke’s “Black Coffee”. As elsewhere Maddren’s delightfully detailed drumming is a delight. Always flexible, intelligent and supportive the young drummer plays with a maturity beyond his years. Constantly in demand he has recently appeared on a clutch of excellent recordings often working with other pianists. Recent examples of his work with Kit Downes and Ivo Neame can be found elsewhere on this site.

Following the propulsive grooves of “Black Coffee” the epic Simcock original “Longing To Be”  comes as something of a contrast. The piece has a dark lyricism courtesy of Goloubev’s bowed intro and Simcock’s stately piano. Goloubev features without the bow too (his pizzicato playing is easily the match of his distinguished arco work) and Maddren is customarily sympathetic throughout. Simcock stretches out at length on yet another impressive piece of original work.

Two contrasting Simcock arrangements of standards follow. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” is a joyous, full on exploration taken at a fair clip and with Simcock whooping along Jarrett style to his improvisations. “Cry Me A River” is in slowed down ballad form with Simcock making maximum use of space supported by Maddren’s delicate brushwork and Goloubev’s resonant but lyrical bass. On both these pieces and throughout the album the trio display a high level of understanding that bodes well for the future.

Simcock wraps things up with an original composition entitled “1981”, the year of his birth. The mood is largely celebratory and occasionally seems to nod in the direction of Pat Metheny, one of his earliest jazz influences. Goloubev features both with and without the bow, he moves comfortably between the two methods without any loss of fluency and Maddren’s drumming is neatly energetic and consistently inventive. With an outgoing performance from Simcock himself this is an exhilarating way to conclude an excellent double album.

“Blues Vignette” is a superb achievement, impressive in it’s scope and ambition and flawless in it’s execution. Considering there is well over two hours music here there are very few longueurs and the synthesis between Simcock’s jazz and classical tendencies sounds thoroughly natural and unforced.

This is Simcock’s most impressive work to date, even better than the very good but sometimes derivative “Perception” and his current trio has the potential to become one of the best. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing them when they visit The Edge in Much Wenlock in the New Year (20th February 2010). For details of other dates see http://www.gwilymsimcock.com.


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