The new, stellar, quartet of Gwilym Simcock, piano, Mike Walker, guitar, Steve Swallow, bass ,and Adam Nussbaum, drums, has a couple of surprises up its sleeve.
I attended the group’s second (ever) outing, at the CBSO Centre in Berkeley Street in Birmingham on Saturday night, and, as I expected was never less than mightily impressed by the level of technique, listening and collective musicianship on display. Yes, the jaw duly drops. But while the music is complex, it is primarily about expression rather than display. And what I certainly wasn’t expecting at this early stage of the band’s life, was to find much on offer which can touch the emotions and really bring out the goosebumps.
Two of these moments of sheer beauty were in the last tune of the first half, When you Hold Her, a new composition by Mike Walker. At one point Walker and Steve Swallow were playing a tricky, sinuous melody in octaves, in perfect lockstep, making one poignant heartfelt voice. The emotions take over. At another point, towards the end of the same tune, Gwilym Simcock was intoning and carefully fading three note rising and falling motifs. Again, complete beauty. I overheard an audience member afterwards, emerging into the foyer talking about how that tune had brought flooding back what sounded like distant memories from over fifty years ago, of hearing a particular piano as a child. There were similar poignant moments in the encore, Simcock’s Plainsong, which brought a touching solo high up in treble clef, a beautifully sustained melodic line from Steve Swallow.
Mike Walker ‘s playing, for those who don’t know it, is one of the greatest joys of British jazz. To say he’s in the league of a John Scofield or a Mick Goodrick may mean little. But in the live situation he can lead the listener literally anywhere. There’s a capacity to play on the borders of silence, and yet with an astonishing range of colour. And to build from there, organically to full-on Hendrix. He never disappoints.
Complete fluidity of movement around the drum kit seems like second nature to Adam Nussbaum. He is some sort of ideal of the creative drummer who brings astonishing vitality and freedom to the sound. I find Steve Swallow ‘s subtle, gentle presence, his economy of movement and language completely and consistently mesmerising.
Gwilym Simcock also is in his element in this group. He had spoken to me a few weeks ago about bringing together four very distinct and individual personalities and sounds, and was enthused, even thrilled by the prospect of the collective sound which would emerge. I particularly enjoyed his Corea-like excursions on Mike Walker’s composition Laughlines, but there was much else to enjoy.
I hope that the only London appearance by this group, at Ronnie Scott’s tonight is packed to the seams. It should be. For those of us in the South -East there won’tbe another opportunity to hear them until July 22nd in Dorking. There will be a radio recording of a set in Manchester at the end of July. A CD recording is also planned.
This should be the start of something big.