Delta Saxophone Quartet/Gwilym Simcock- Crimson
(Basho SRCD 50-2. CD Review by Frank Griffith)
King Crimson for saxes? At first glance, one might baulk at the idea of the angular and metallic 1970s rock anthems penned by Messrs Fripp, Wetton and Palmer-James reconstructed for a sax quartet and piano. Fear not, dear reader. Pianist/composer, Gwilym Simcock‘s treatments of King Crimson themes are fresh, challenging and inspiring and handled ably by the Delta Sax Quartet who are currently celebrating their 30th year. Their line-up includes Graeme Blevins, soprano sax, Pete Whyman, alto sax, Tim Holmes, tenor sax and the leader, Chris Caldwell baritone sax. All of whom are equally adept improvising as well as “ensemblists”. This being essential of course as Simcock’s settings call on soloing showcases for each saxist as well as executing his finely honed ensemble writing, much of which supports the pianist’s inventive solo excursions of his own.
Simcock selected source material from across King Crimson’s career, reflecting three very different lineups in the groups long history. Rather than simply scoring out the Crimson music, Simcock aimed to create opportunities to transport it to different places- in his own words, ‘to open it up’ making the results intricate, agile and exciting. He has reconceived a range of Crimson songs, from different eras, with tight but apposite arrangements that capitalise the Crimson element but also play up the formidable fortes of the Delta Force. Simcock said “the only criteria were whether I felt each piece would translate from the more expanded forces of a prog rock band down to a sax quartet.”
I demur breaking down each track, better to listen to the thing in its entirety. While the parts are consistently fine musicianship, the sum is even greater. Of particular interest to this listener, however, was, ironically, Simcock’s original A Kind of Red, envisioned by him ‘as a sort of homage to the music I’d researched’. This affectionate and positively lyrical tribute to one of Crimson’s steely and angular themes features a riveting duet between Aussie sopranoist, Blevins and Simcock.
Neither devoteees of of sax quartets nor admirers of classic 1970s rock innovators need to “see red.” King Crimson, Simcock and the Delta Quartet have together made an impressive three-way collaboration.