Review: Gwilym Simcock Trio

Gwilym Simcock Trio
(Holywell Music Room, Oxford, November 23rd, 2009

Pianist Gwilym Simcock goes on developing, changing, growing, all the time. I find that on each hearing there will be something different, he will have set off in a new direction, particularly if I haven’t heard him for a while. This time it’s been about six months, and there was. Long may this continue.

The contrast between new and old was at its clearest last night in the Holywell Music Room when his trio played A Typical Affair, from the earlier CD Perception as their encore. Simcock, bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer James Maddren had until that point played newer compostions, mostly material from from the new Double CD Blues Vignette (Basho) which is being launched at the Pizza Express this Friday 27th.

What’s new? Compared to the brasher, bouncier A Typical Affair, I find that the compositional arcs and the concentration spans in the new material have become much longer. I’m guessing that the fact that Simcock has been spending more time composing, thinking hard about longer structures is probably in there for something.

I felt that there was also a progression in the clarity of voice-leading, which may also come from the composing. There was an astonishing moment towards the end of Tundra last night where he seemed to be moving some pulsing comping chords, up and down, never moving far, staying within narrow tram lines. Those shifting colours, every voice going somewhere, seemed like the fascinating resolution of a particularly elaborate compositional Sudoku.

But – I’m still guessing- the influence of Yuri Goloubev must also play its part. The Russian bassist has an astonishing capacity to sustain and project a long graceful melodic line – either bowed or plucked – so it must be quite hard for Simcock not to want to feature that powerful voice, up close in the foreground, to make it lead, to bring in the other voices as accompaniment.

Concentrating on what is new was one thing to think about. But hearing Simcock again also brings a recapping, a re-familiarizing of the ears to what it is that makes the jaw drop so often when he’s playing. There’s that panic-of-the-door-about-to-close at the top of an intensity-build, when he brings in the extra right hand scampering, the improbable rhythmic displacement, shifts up into the gears so many other pianists just don’t have. Then after that, there’s the space he finds after those moments of passion, which were caught particularly well in that special, immediate, and unforgiving acoustic of the Holywell Music Room.

This was an intense musical experience. All three musicians were playing the room, particularly James Maddren, who performed an astonishing miracle of balance.

At the Pizza Express in Dean Street for the week starting this Friday the vibe will be different. The trio will be there for the album launch on Friday, but for the nights thereafter they will be welcoming some fascinating guests. Anyone who has tried to play a saxophone, or even just thought about it, should check out any of Julian Arguelles or Stan Sulzmann or Klaus Gesing. All three of these are phenomenal. Then there’s a rare appearance by wonderfully melodic Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, and there’s South London’s own Gerard Presencer flugelling back from Copenhagen.

So much to enjoy. Full details of the Nov 27 to Dec 3 Pizza Express residency are at http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk

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