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Review: Orchestra of St John’s/Gwilym Simcock Quartet at Kings Place

Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

Orchestra of St John’s/Gwilym Simcock Quartet – Bach Unwrapped (Jazz Bach)
(King’s Place, Wednesday 2 January. Review by Chris Parker)

Although, both during this concert and in its pre-publicity, considerable efforts were made to justify allowing jazz musicians loose on Bach’s hallowed turf (pianist Gwilym Simcock claiming the great composer as ‘the first jazz musician’ courtesy of his love of improvisation, conductor John Lubbock reminiscing in the programme about his time as a Swingle Singer in the 1970s), the ease and naturalness that characterised much of the music actually produced during the evening rendered such special pleading entirely redundant.

True, there were moments (such as the sudden intrusion of Asaf Sirkis’s drums into the Orchestra of St John’s opening concerto) where the pudding was slightly over-egged, but overall, the collaboration, between two forms of music too often seen as incompatible, worked well, with hardly a whiff of contrivance. Simcock himself, of course, is an extravagantly gifted pianist, his articulation precise, his dynamic control faultless, so his performance of the Keyboard Concerto in D Minor (BWV 1052) combined delicate accuracy with considerable adventurousness, and in Tim Garland, who has always been as comfortable in traditional folk or classical concerto settings as in the jazz world, he found the perfect collaborator for such a project.

Garland’s soprano, at once sweet and full but robust and vigorous where required, and his skirling tenor, too, proved particularly well suited to providing saxophone obbligati to the Bach chorales sung by the OSJ Voices (bringing Jan Garbarek’s Hilliard Ensemble collaborations irresistibly to mind), and a quartet romp through a deliciously Bach-inflected ‘Autumn Leaves’ was impressively virtuosic, but it was, arguably, Yuri Goloubev who provided the concert’s most memorable moment, his breathtaking improvised solo bass exploration of Bach’s cello suites an unforgettable highlight.

As Garland suggested, during a short announcement that also included Spike Milligan’s wonderful definition of a jazz musician (‘someone who never does the same thing once’), J. S. Bach would have felt very much at home during this entertaining (and enlightening) evening’s music.

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