The Jazz Mann | The Impossible Gentlemen - Internationally Recognised Aliens | Review | The Jazz Mann

Accessibility Menu

REVIEW

Internationally Recognised Aliens

The Impossible Gentlemen

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Internationally Recognised Aliens

Their second album builds upon the success of its acclaimed predecessor. Another triumph for The Impossible Gentlemen.

The Impossible Gentlemen

“Internationally Recognised Aliens”

(Basho Records SRCD 43-2)

The rise and rise of the international quartet The Impossible Gentlemen has been one of THE jazz success stories of recent years. Conceived by Manchester based guitarist and composer Mike Walker this Trans-Atlantic alliance features Walker alongside fellow Brit Gwilym Simcock at the piano plus the heavyweight US rhythm pairing of Steve Swallow (electric bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums). Perhaps the most unusual thing about the group is the fact that the two Brits are effectively the leaders, contributing the majority of the material and forming the backbone of the band. The Gents’ excellent performance at the 2013 Brecon Jazz Festival featured an entirely different rhythm section but one can’t conceive of a TIG performance without both Simcock and Walker.

I’m pleased to report that The Jazzmann has been on board from the beginning, spotting the potential of the cumbersomely monikered Simcock/Walker/Swallow/Nussbaum at the Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea on the group’s first British tour back in 2010. I saw them excel again at the same venue a year later by which time they’d adopted the TIG group name and got a superb début album under their collective belt. Although probably originally intended as a one off collaboration the extraordinary rapport generated between the members of this international, cross generational band ensured that this was a project with legs. TIG’s blend of accessible but intelligent fusion (for want of a better word) was a huge success with audiences and was clearly also a whole lot of fun to play. This is a super-group that works, and one that has also gathered a substantial word of mouth following for the consistency and excellence of their live performances.

“Aliens”, their second album, builds upon the success of its acclaimed predecessor. The majority of the material comes from the pens of Simcock and Walker, some of it jointly written, with Swallow’s closing ballad “Ever After” the only writing credit from the American contingent. I’ve spoken before of TIG’s potential appeal to fans of the Pat Metheny Group and as if to emphasise the point “Aliens” features that talents of former Metheny Group bassist Steve Rodby who not only acts as producer but also plays acoustic bass on a couple of numbers. He doesn’t replace Swallow on these items but instead supplements him, holding down the groove while Swallow is given the freedom to roam on his distinctive custom built five string electric bass. Rodby played with the group at Brecon alongside drummer Mark Walker (no relation), a musician perhaps best known for his role as the percussionist in the group Oregon. Rodby will also be in the bass chair for the Gents’ forthcoming UK tour, this time in partnership with Nussbaum. Swallow, meanwhile, will be concentrating on his new ECM solo album “Into The Woodwork” and touring with his partner Carla Bley’s long running trio featuring UK saxophonist Andy Sheppard, a seed for for TIG perhaps?

When writing for this all star aggregation Simcock and Walker certainly seem to raise their game. This time round all the music was written specifically with this ensemble in mind, a significant development. I was lucky enough to get a preview of much of this material when the quartet played a brilliant set at The Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock in December 2012. The new album was recorded at the same UK studio as the first in an attempt to recreate the same relaxed atmosphere. It’s a move that’s paid dividends and studio owner and engineer Curtis Schwarz deserves credit for the quality of the recording. I’m also pleased to see that the group have stayed loyal to Basho Music who have looked after them so well since the beginning. 

A strong programme kicks off with the Simcock/Walker composed “Heute Loiter”.Walker’s solo guitar introduction quickly metamorphoses into an irresistible funk groove. Walker is a supremely versatile guitarist with a thorough grounding in both jazz and rock plus their related musical genres. Long underrated due to his reluctance to move to London TIG has given him the chance to demonstrate his world class credentials. It’s no exaggeration to say that he’s the UK’s equivalent to the similarly diverse John Scofield, with whom Swallow and Nussbaum have also worked. Making imaginative use of his effects Walker is in fine form here, mainly at the rock influenced of the spectrum. 

Simcock grew up loving the music of Pat Metheny and it must be like a dream come true to be working alongside Rodby in the The Impossible Gentlemen. Simcock describes his composition “Just To See You” as a “gentle little tune” and the piece has a gorgeous melody worthy of Metheny himself. Simcock figures strongly on piano but the piece also features both bassists with Rodby holding down the groove on stand up acoustic as Swallow plays melodic lines on the electric model. The band refer to this brotherhood of bass as “Steve Squared”. After the fireworks of the opener it’s also interesting to hear Nussbaum lay down a lightly brushed groove. There’s a relaxed, song like quality about this lovely tune and Simcock has expressed his wish that someone will add lyrics to it at some point.

“Modern Day Heroes” is mainly Simcock’s piece but also includes some judicious input from Walker.  Melodic AND grooving it’s a piece that exemplifies the group’s approach and perfectly showcases its many virtues. Simcock’s exuberant pianism is a constant delight, dovetailing beautifully with Walker’s slippery guitar lines in a particularly fertile exchange of ideas. Swallow and Nussbaum provide propulsive and sure footed grooves that give the soloists space to flourish but when the spotlight falls on these stellar rhythm players they’re not found wanting.

The first TIG album featured Walker’s epic ballad “When You Hold Her”, a tune with a particularly strong narrative arc. The guitarist was looking for similar qualities on this album’s “The Sliver Of Other Lovers” and has expressed his interest in blurring the boundaries between jazz, rock, pop and classical music. “Sliver..” was also conceived as a feature for Simcock and features a particularly interesting passage in which the pianist follows Walker’s instructions by adhering rigidly to a strict left hand rhythmic pattern while improvising freely and fluently with his right. It’s quite brilliantly executed. Following this Walker’s guitar takes flight albeit in a less controlled, more rock influenced manner than on the corresponding passage on “When You Hold Her”. Overall “Sliver…” is less dramatic than its companion piece but is nevertheless an interesting and thoroughly convincing piece of work in its own right.

“Crank Of Cam Bay” is another Walker piece, the title inspired by a story related to the guitarist by Steve Swallow. The album notes tell the full tale and at nine minutes in length the track is arguably the focal point of the album. The playing is as excellent as you’d expect with memorable solos from Walker and Swallow but for me the piece is marred by the narrated passages (the voice is Swallow’s) that punctuate the tune. To my mind this is an unnecessary indulgence (I’ve already read the story in the liner notes) that brings back memories of those awful Rick Wakeman albums of my youth or worse still Procol Harum’s “The Worm And The Tree” from the album “Something Magic” (it wasn’t). Quite why the shamefully underrated Procs signed off the first phase of their career with such an abject piece of nonsense I’ll never know. Up until that point they’d maintained a consistent level of quality control despite innumerable line up changes and released a string of fine albums -  there was so much more to that band than “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”. However I digress. Turning back to TIG and to paraphrase the “Crank” - “please stop the verbals, thank you”. In mitigation Walker might cite the successful use of sampled speech on his excellent 2008 solo album “Madhouse And The Whole Thing There” but there it all seemed to be more integrated and organic, essential to the overall atmosphere and concept rather than an obviously contrived add on. 

The Simcock/Walker collaboration “Love In Unlikely Places” was conceived at a rehearsal prior to a gig in Liechtenstein. An intimate piano and guitar duet it grew out of improvisation and was completed in little more than half an hour. Simcock remarks that it “somehow sounds very British” and there is indeed an appealingly pastoral quality about it as both musicians reveal something of their sensitive sides.

Simcock’s “Barber Blues” is based on the methodology of classical composer Samuel Barber’s “Excursions”. Like Barber Simcock takes a vigorous and “rhythmic left hand ostinato and a forceful angular melody” and adds various other elements to turn the tune into a sixteen bar blues incorporating a series of pithy solos for members of the band including Rodby on double bass and Nussbaum at the drums. Simcock quips that the piece is “absolutely nothing to do with having a bad haircut” and it has already proved to be a popular item at the group’s live shows.

Swallow’s closing ballad “Ever After” is the perfect epilogue with its simple but sumptuous, almost hymn like melody. The Gents are at their most lyrical here with Nussbaum’s subtly brushed accompaniment supplementing the thoughtful, unhurried solo contributions of his colleagues. However just as much as the faster tunes this is an excellent illustration of just what an effective unit TIG have become, each plays his part in sustaining the fragile, contemplative mood of this piece. Elsewhere however it’s often a collective sense of fun that come to the fore, an entirely different kind of group interaction. However as Simcock has said its the group’s ability to “communicate”, whatever the musical setting, that has made them such a popular act with the nation’s jazz fans. 

Minor quibbles aside “Internationally Recognised Aliens” represents another triumph for The Impossible Gentlemen and is almost certain to do just as well as its illustrious predecessor. UK fans can check the group out on their forthcoming British tour during October 2013 (Simcock, Walker, Rodby, Nussbaum). Dates below;     


OCTOBER 2013

Thu 10
8.30pm
Watermill Jazz, Dorking
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.watermilljazz.co.uk/index.htm

Fri 11
8.00pm
Flavel Arts Centre, Dartmouth
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.theflavel.org.uk

Sat 12
8.00pm
Turner Sims, Southampton
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.turnersims.co.uk/events/the-impossible-gentlemen/

Sun 13
Royal Academy of Music (Workshop)
The Impossible Gentlemen

Tue 15
7.30pm
RNCM Manchester
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.rncm.ac.uk/whats-on/event/2012/impossible-gentlemen/

Wed 16
Leeds College of Music
The Impossible Gentlemen
Workshop

Thu 17
The Spin, Oxford
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.spinjazz.com/index

Fri 18
8.30pm
Zeffirelli’s Ambleside, Cumbria
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.zeffirellis.com/livemusic

Sat 19
8.30pm
Seven Arts Leeds
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.sevenleeds.co.uk/clients/sevenarts/MODULES/DIARY/DIARYMOD_viewlist.asp?show=year&cleardate=true&fromnow=true

Sun 20
The Arena, Wolverhampton
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.wlv.ac.uk/default.aspx?page=31282

Mon 21
8.30pm
Pizza Express, Dean Street, London
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk/jazzList.aspx

Tue 22
8.30pm
Pizza Express, Dean Street, London
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk/jazzList.aspx

Wed 23
8.30pm
Pizza Express, Dean Street, London
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk/jazzList.aspx

Thu 24
8.30pm
Pizza Express, Dean Street, London
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk/jazzList.aspx

Sat 26
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Cardiff
http://www.rwcmd.ac.uk/whats_on.aspx
and is almost certain to do just as well as its illustrious predecessor. UK fans can check the group out on their forthcoming British tour during October 2013 (Simcock, Walker, Rodby, Nussbaum). Dates below;     
   
OCTOBER

Thu 10
8.30pm
Watermill Jazz, Dorking
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.watermilljazz.co.uk/index.htm

Fri 11
8.00pm
Flavel Arts Centre, Dartmouth
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.theflavel.org.uk

Sat 12
8.00pm
Turner Sims, Southampton
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.turnersims.co.uk/events/the-impossible-gentlemen/

Sun 13
Royal Academy of Music (Workshop)
The Impossible Gentlemen

Tue 15
7.30pm
RNCM Manchester
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.rncm.ac.uk/whats-on/event/2012/impossible-gentlemen/

Wed 16
Leeds College of Music
The Impossible Gentlemen
Workshop

Thu 17
The Spin, Oxford
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.spinjazz.com/index

Fri 18
8.30pm
Zeffirelli’s Ambleside, Cumbria
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.zeffirellis.com/livemusic

Sat 19
8.30pm
Seven Arts Leeds
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.sevenleeds.co.uk/clients/sevenarts/MODULES/DIARY/DIARYMOD_viewlist.asp?show=year&cleardate=true&fromnow=true

Sun 20
The Arena, Wolverhampton
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.wlv.ac.uk/default.aspx?page=31282

Mon 21
8.30pm
Pizza Express, Dean Street, London
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk/jazzList.aspx

Tue 22
8.30pm
Pizza Express, Dean Street, London
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk/jazzList.aspx

Wed 23
8.30pm
Pizza Express, Dean Street, London
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk/jazzList.aspx

Thu 24
8.30pm
Pizza Express, Dean Street, London
The Impossible Gentlemen
http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk/jazzList.aspx

Sat 26
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Cardiff
http://www.rwcmd.ac.uk/whats_on.aspx


blog comments powered by Disqus

JAZZ MANN FEATURES

Sunday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 31/08/2014.

Sunday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 31/08/2014.

Ian Mann on the second day at Wall2Wall including performances by Kevin Figes, Bannau Trio, Moonlight Saving Time, Tony O'Malley and Moscow Drug Club.


Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 30/08/2014.

Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 30/08/2014.

Ian Mann enjoys a rich variety of music on the first day of the second Wall2Wall Jazz Festival including performances from Zoe Gilby, Will Butterworth ,Ceri Williams and Willie Garnett.


JAZZ MANN RECOMMENDS