REVIEW: Gwilym Simcock Quartet, OSJ/Lubbock, Jazz Sebastian Bach

Gwilym Simcock, Klaus Gesing, Yuri Goloubev, Asaf Sirkis saluting John Lubbock

Gwilym Simcock Quartet, OSJ/Lubbock, Jazz Sebastian Bach 
(St John’s Smith Square, 8th April 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This collaboration first saw the light of day with the title of “Jazz Bach!”(*) as one of the opening events in the 2013 Kings Place Bach Unwrapped year. The high quality ingredients are as follows: Gwilym Simcock‘s Quartet, John Lubbock‘s Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square, a top-notch chamber choir, and the timeless genius of Bach.

The basic idea is to use the instrumental and vocal resources to dip into and out of Bach and jazz, to explore contrasts and enjoy them, to take in both the familiar and the unfamiliar, to shake, to stir, and always to venerate. It’s an evolving idea which definitely held the attention of a full-ish St Johns Smith Square last night. The result was a programme full of contrasts, with unexpected treats where you might least expect them.

For example, it is a long time since I witnessed quite such concentrated listening, and such sustained applause, for an unaccompanied bass solo as last night, but there again, Yuri Goloubev is no run-of-the-mill bass player. He combines melodic gifts with frighteningly secure technique in a way which will always command respect, attention, awe, appreciation and affection. His exporatory take on the Prelude (Movement I) from the Suite No 1 in G for solo cello, BWV 1007 was a quite remarkable moment.

The show has acquired a title Jazz Sebastian Bach, which links it more overtly with the popular early sixties French jazz and Bach combinations by the Swingles and Jacques Loussier. Homage was duly paid to one of the best-known musical tropes from that period, Jacques Loussier’s take on “Orchestral Suite No. 3, in D major, BWV 1068: Air,”….later immortalized in the Hamlet cigar ad (LINK).

The were all sorts of other excursions too. Lubbock and soprano saxophonist Klaus Gesing – again that combination of melodic eloquence and pick-your-jaw-up-off-the-floor technique – disappeared together up into the gallery for a Bach chorale-plus-improvising-sax episode, taking the now familiar musical trope of Garbarek and the Hilliards, and let it work its magic. Then you had  a string orchestra playing “straight” Bach, dialoguing with a jazz quartet playing “swung” Bach. And Kosma’s Autumn Leaves “Bach-ified.” There were also features for drummer Asaf Sirkis, who never repeats himself, makes every sound fresh. With no high-hat in his drum kit, every back-beat gets its own individual shape.

A word about John Lubbock. He is one of the most self-effacing conductors around. In fact his approach is almost the antithesis of the combination of  [showmanship + perspiration + over-acting + dance-mat] that people have come increasingly to expect from conductors in classical music. Lubbock’s conducting style is wonderfully understated and all about integrity… in the same way as Thad Jones’ was, or Nick Smart’s is. His gentle way always secures wonderfully musical results, and true ego-less collaboration.

Jazz Sebastian Bach  has a  real  freshness about it. The idea at its heart is flexible, extendable, malleable, and always welcoming of the new, and  is also very well suited to Gwilym Simcock’s exceptional pianistic gifts and ever-evolving nature. Whereas JSB might well at some stage be frozen in time in a recording, it is to be hoped that the live performance won’t be allowed to stand still. With all kinds of treasures lying in wait in Bach’s oeuvre, it will be fascinating to see where Gwilym Simcock wants to take this venture next.

(*) means Roy Eldridge in Welsh 🙂

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