Gwyilm Simcock has the jazz world at his feet. Still on a high after his Mercury Prize nomination (although he didn’t win of course), critically acclaimed for his recording work and enjoying collaborations with a number of senior jazz figures, Simcock is reaping the rewards of his undeniable talent.
Simcock’s an eloquent ambassador for his art too, as he demonstrated by stylishly joint-presenting this gig (it’s going out on Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up in October). He talked about the wider jazz world and future plans (for more of which, see here on LondonJazz) as well as the inspiration for his tunes, which is just as well because the sources of his compositions are so eclectic – beer, football club forums, French building companies – that he might seem a bit of an oddball otherwise.
An oddball he is not at the keys either. Rather than any kind of flashiness, his playing is built on a fluency and level of musical engagement that can be breathtaking. The quality here never dipped for a moment over two sets. The trio, Simcock plus the excellent Russian bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer James Maddren, interacted instinctively but clearly also knew the material intimately. On reeds, Tim Garland, formerly a tutor of Simcock’s, added a further layer of lyricism to the younger man’s compositions and arrangements, most of which were new.
While his sumptuous work at the keyboard will always be at the heart of his appeal, Simcock’s quietly sophisticated and mature compositions shouldn’t be ignored either. The influences here are perhaps broader than those for his playing, where keith Jarrett continues to loom large. A riff redolent of EST opened the first tune; ‘Monsieur Brickolage’ was a natty, angular melody; ‘Barber’s Lament’ cleverly re-cast American classical composer Samuel Barber; the list goes on.
Finishing the first set, ‘Northern Smiles’ (a native of Stoke-on-Trent, Simcock likes to reference his roots) was the highlight of the night by a whisker. A jaunty opening drum solo was followed by chromatic, free-wheeling improvisation from Simcock where he briefly departed from the control he otherwise seems to exert on himself. Wonderful stuff.