|Photo Credit: David Forman|
The Impossible Gentlemen
(Pizza Express, Dean Street. Monday 13th June. Review by Chris Parker)
Devoting their first set to pieces from their eponymous Basho album, but airing (mostly) new material in their second, The Impossible Gentlemen (left to right above: Steve Swallow, Gwilym Simcock, Mike Walker, Adam Nussbaum) utterly charmed a full house on this, the first of their two-nights
engagement at the cellar club.
The 2010 tour by this band, (reviewed by LondonJazz here) resulted in three out of five Jazz UK journalists voting their gig the best of the year, and praise for their album has been uniformly warm – ‘imagine guitarist Pat Metheny’s trio masterpiece, Day Trip (Nonesuch, 2007), add a pianist of commensurate genius, and you are banging on the disc’s front door. It is that good’ a representative example – so they’re clearly doing a lot of things right, and their opening number, guitarist Mike Walker‘s ‘Clockmaker’, contained a fair number of them: ease of interaction, graceful but powerful soloing, a rhythmic buoyancy attributable in no small part to Steve Swallow‘s deft picked basslines, but also to Adam Nussbaum‘s restless probing round the beat.
With the mellifluous, resourceful piano of Gwilym Simcock intertwining with Walker’s delicate guitar work, the bar was set high for the rest of the concert, but Simcock’s ‘You Won’t be Around to See It’ (loosely based on ‘Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise’), Walker’s ‘Wallenda’s Last Stand’ (dedicated to the leader of a family of tightrope walkers), his driving album-opener ‘Laugh Lines’ and the slow-building burner ‘When You Hold Her’ maintained the musical standard, each tune drawing a precisely appropriate guitar tone from Walker and solos of cascading but controlled urgency from Simcock.
The US rhythm section provided most of the second set’s compositions, Simcock’s appropriately breezy Fremantle Doctor’ (inspired by a refreshing afternoon wind in the Western Australia port) aside, and the consequent slight shift in emphasis, from fluent, almost pastoral lyricism to a tenser, slightly jazzier approach, was immediately noticeable. Nussbaum’s ‘Sure Would Baby’ drew yet another cracking guitar solo from Walker, Swallow’s set-closing ‘Ladies in Mercedes’ proved a joyous romp courtesy of its relentlessly ascending melody, and Nussbaum’s ‘Days of Old’ (based on a tune sung by his then eight-year-old daughter) was a tender (but surprisingly gutsy) encore.
The hallmark of the band’s album is the quartet’s discernible enjoyment of and respect for each other’s playing; this live performance, assured and relaxed yet consistently musicianly, each participant unfussily virtuosic, was simply small-group jazz at its unequivocally enjoyable best.