|The Impossible Gentlemen. Left to right: Swallow, Nussbaum, Walker, Simcock|
The Impossible Gentlemen
(Pizza Express Dean Street, Wednesday, June 27th 2012)
Gwilym Simcock on piano, Mike Walker on guitar, Steve Swallow on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums came together in early 2010 to form The Impossible Gentlemen, and have been described as a jazz super-group. Not necessarily a good thing, as super-groups have been known to dissolve in a morass of competing egos instead of combining to achieve shared musical goals. It is a partnership across the generations – Simcock is 31, Walker 49, Swallow 71 and Nussbaum 56 -and is working well.
Steve Swallow plays a hollow bodied acoustic bass guitar and so good was the sound that I heard every note he played on this gig. That’s not always the case with bass. His career goes back to the mid-sixties and he’s played with all the greats. Similarly Adam Nussbaum, who can name check Abercrombie and Brecker, has worked with Swallow in a trio with John Scofield.
So what attracted such established names to join two relatively lesser known – and British – musicians? Well, Simcock has already been hailed as a genius by no less than Chick Corea, and I humbly second that. But there are probably many, or at least, several jazz pianists who have technique in spades and a tremendous grasp of melody, harmony and counterpoint.
What makes Simcock stand out, head and shoulders for me, is the almost classical tone quality he produces from the instrument. So many jazzers accentuate the percussive qualities of the piano, bringing out, at times, a harshness which cuts through but is not exactly inviting. Simcock has it in his fingers to produce a woody, marimba like quality when playing ostinatos at the start of “Barber Blues”, a thick warm tone when playing ballads such as an as yet untitled piece by Swallow – and many beautiful and subtle colours in between.
Mike Walker was a revelation to me – he too has a long track record, but not always in high-profile situations. He has, nevertheless, played with Kenny Wheeler’s big band and with George Russell, and also covered for Scofield in the Mike Gibbs band. He is a wonderfully fluent soloist. I loved the range of tones that he used – clean on the jaw-dropping unison head of Laugh Lines, warm and buzzy on the fast Latin style Ladies in Mercedes and rock tones on You Won’t Be Around To See It.
This was an absorbing night’s music performed before a packed and attentive audience. If you haven’t already got the album all I can say is – where’ve you been? The tour continues in Portsmouth tonight and then in Europe in July but they’re back for a few dates in the UK in December. I don’t think I’ll hear a more memorable gig this year so they are worth travelling a long way for.
Album number two – to be produced by Steve Rodby (interviewed here)- is being recorded in the next few weeks – I’m in a state of aural salivation.
The way Swallow tells it, 'twas John Taylor's praises of young Gwylim which first brought Simcock to his attention. I don't who lured Walker from the north, but we should all be thankful he is finally – and deservedly – reaching a larger audience.
I had an opportunity to hear the IG in Berlin last year, with Rodby in on bass, subbing for Swallow, who was also already out on the road, making his new quintet's debut tour (with Carla Bley, Chris Cheek, Steve Cardenas and Jorge Rossy).
Walker repeatedly set the stage of A-Trane afire, with Simcock weaving variegated palettes all round, in his own sweet way covering territories from Bill Evans' to McCoy Tyner's as befit the moment,and Nussbaum putting his pedal to the metal when needed, otherwise bubbling just under a boil in his light-handed disciplined raucousness.
Rodby had the hardest row to hoe, knowing whose shoes he was in, but he held forth clearly, with his own voice, perhaps even then assessing this ensemble's unique strengths with his veteran and keen producer's ear…
I'd heard the Swallow Quintet only the night before, gloriously subtle in rendering Swallow's compositions for JazzFest Berlin's finale, and a bit of his spirit still seemed to hang in the air, further fueling Walker's repeated explorations on guitar, most all of which ended in triumph, with no one looking more pleasantly surprised by all that than the plectrist himself…
Thus I too find the thought of Rodby producing the next IG album exciting. He has always had a constructive influence on Pat Metheny and if you want to hear him as a younger player and producer with a(nother) kick-ass guitarist, let me recommend seeking out his early-80s recordings with Ross Traut. All that experience will work in Walker's favor I am sure.
Let me close with word of another related album forthcoming, that of the self-produced Swallow Quintet, recorded at the end of their aforementioned debut tour.
It's nice to have such things to look forward to.