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Review: Clive Carroll, Martin Taylor, Martin Simpson

Review: Acoustic Fingerpickers- Clive Carroll, Martin Taylor and Martin Simpson. Kings Place, Saturday October 31st, 2009, by Rod Fogg

This series of three short concerts on the same evening was the climax to the
London Guitar Festival in the Fall at King’s Place.

Kings Place Hall One has a sumptuous acoustic, perfect for small-scale concerts. It’s intimate, with wooden panelling and soft blue lighting creating a cocoon-like cosiness. The guitars being played were broadly of the steel-strung acoustic variety, but all three players used a classical approach, with a level of polyphony to which your average three chord strummer can only aspire. All were amplified, with delay and reverb effects added to get that “contemporary acoustic” sound.

Clive Carroll played an eclectic set involving blues, Irish fiddle tunes, classical, several of his own compositions and a bit of Johnny Cash as an encore. Although he plays solo, he is not averse to the occasional duet with himself using a delay pedal – at one point performing the bass and chords of Czardas and adding the melody and a solo over the looped backing. Much of his set is spectacularly virtuosic, but he has a gentle and engaging personality. He’s a tough act to follow and deserves to be more widely known.

Martin Taylor is more widely known and his concert was probably the best attended of the three. He sits classical style but plays a ‘cello-style jazz box, producing a warm jazz tone with a hint of sparkle from the on board pickup. He plays jazz, but does not play the obvious tunes. Many jazzers would know I Fall in Love Too Easily and Sweet Lorraine, but he also played, Don’t Know Why – the Norah Jones song, and Hymne a L’Amour – by Edith Piaf.

Style-wise it’s like he heard Joe Pass’s solo albums and decided to take it to the nth degree. Phrases of melody are surrounded by long melismatic fills, punctuated by chords and supported by walking bass lines. Sometimes he swings like the proverbial, and then sometimes he doesn’t, deliberately chopping across the rhythm with staccato bass or accented chords. Down at Kokomo, one of his own compositions, was the standout track from the first part of his concert. He played bass, chords and melody in a bouncy Caribbean style with more skill than a juggler keeping 20 balls in the air. Halfway through he was joined by Martin Simpson, who played some slide and some E-bow (I said there were effects) but left most of the virtuosity to the other Martin.

Just as the Martin Taylor concert featured Martin Simpson, so the final concert was Martin Simpson (above) with special guest MartinTaylor. Simpson has an unpretentious and expressive voice and uses open tunings to interweave flowing guitar lines with vocal melodies. Where Taylor is jazz, Simpson is folk, and he plays traditional songs and his own compositions to deeply moving effect. “I want to tell you some stories”, he says, and proceeds to bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat with songs like Never Any Good with Money and Gypsy Boy – the latter written for Martin Taylor’s own dead son.

The two guitarists performed together on Randy Newman’s Louisiana and the gospel song Swing Low – and then played a stunning fiddle tune as an encore, interweaving and playing the melody in harmony with edge-of-seat verve and panache.

Martin Simpson knocked me sideways – it’s a long time since I’ve been so moved by voice and guitar. You could say he’s come on a bit in recent years. But any one of these guys is up there with the best on the planet. If you get a chance to catch them for yourself, don’t miss it.

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Rod Fogg is a guitarist and teacher based in London. He is also the author of several books including Django Reinhardt: Know the man, Play the music, and The Totally Interactive Guitar Bible, both published by Backbeat. Follow this link for Rod Fogg’s website.

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