|The Impossible Gentlemen
L-R: Gwlym Simcock, Steve Rodby, Adam Nussbaum, Mike Walker
The Impossible Gentlemen is made up of the ever-growing and continuously impressive line-up of Mike Walker (guitar), Gwilym Simcock (piano, horn and a variety of percussive instruments), Adam Nussbaum (drums), Steve Rodby (bass) and now Iain Dixon (sax, clarinet, flute). Co-founders Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker talked to Leah Williams about the band’s latest album, “Let’s Get Deluxe”:
Let’s Get Deluxe is the third album from this transatlantic, progressive group, coming almost three years since their last release. Gwilym Simcock is quick to mention that the title is intended to be tongue-in- cheek, which is obvious from the cool, American-style photo depicting a not-so- glamourous life on the road that adorns the album’s front cover as well as from the immediately evident down-to- earth personalities of the two frontmen.
Although one might argue that the album is indeed more deluxe than intended – but that comes entirely from the music itself. The Impossible Gentlemen’s third album strives to produce a different sound to their previous two. An obvious progression of course – as Gwilym states: writing for the first album particularly was about finding their feet and their sound together as a group whereas with each album that follows they are able to get in to their groove more as well as start exploring the sound in more depth – but it’s also an attestation to the creativity and cohesion of Mike and Gwilym as both musicians and a writing team. For that’s one of the main differences on this album: all songs were entirely co-written by the both of them.
Not straightforward by any means, finding someone you can write a whole album with without too many clashes of ideas, styles or preferences. So were there any fall-outs? Fisticuffs in the Manchester countryside as they argued over riffs and chord progressions? Not at all, laughs Gwilym, in fact he goes on to describe how the experience of writing with Mike was not only easy but also incredibly enjoyable: “We’ve always just got along so well, as friends and musicians, and that naturally progressed in to writing together. It’s not necessarily because we have the same style or the same ideas but in fact because we each have different, unique things to bring to the table. A lot of energy, time and hard work went in to this album but also a lot of enjoyment and excitement – and it’s that which we hope comes through in the music.” Mike concurs, saying that they have a really strong relationship “both musically and socially – we’re already planning the next album”.
This writing process has definitely brought many new layers and elements to the music and a more orchestral feel with a rich, textured sound is one of them. It was a conscious decision, they say, to start with writing music for the band and then to expand on that and enhance the music as much as they felt was appropriate for each individual song to result in this broader orchestration. Mike says that they wanted to “throw different ideas at the music, outside of the usual conventions, with counter melodies and snaking lines battling with the melody. On repeated listening, you might find yourself whistling melodies that were hidden in the shadows.” There are many rich and interesting moments born from this and they doubled a lot of the instruments in places in order to hopefully create a new sound entirely – one that isn’t immediately recognisable as horn or vibraphone etc. The addition of conscientiously chosen string sections, courtesy of The Crumbleton Strings, certainly helps to expand the album’s sound but it is mainly down to the abundant talent within the group itself that this evolution was possible: Gwilym moves seamlessly from piano to french horn to marimba (and many other things in between!) and then there is the new addition of Iain Dixon who is similarly multi-instrumental. On the album he “only” plays two saxes, and also clarinets and flutes but is apparently pretty handy on the keyboard too which could prove vital for live concerts when Gwilym might be busy wielding an accordion or tapping a vibraphone instead.
Steve Rodby, who had already begun to take on some of the bass playing on the last album, has also now become the sole bass player and has some real shining moments on Let’s Get Deluxe: “Steve is such an amazing soloist with incredible dexterity and a real individual sound; we really wanted him to have the opportunity to show off a bit on this album”.
One of the standout tracks on the album is It Could Have Been a Simple Goodbye, which they are now performing as A Simple Goodbye in tribute to the late John Taylor – a “phenomenal musician whom we love and miss very much”. It is noticeable for its understated elegance and obviously heartfelt performance. “The album recording is from the first take in the studio”, they explain, “The doubling and overdubs were added later but the base of the piece was done in one take and it is filled with a lot of emotion and sincerity.”
All the track titles have obviously been carefully thought about and each seems to hint at an interesting back story: A Fedora for Dora ; Dog Time; Propane Jane. Terrace Legend is a prime example, which turns out to have been inspired by Neil Baldwin, a local man with what have been classed as “severe learning difficulties” who reached legend status due to his uninhibited style of asking for (and mostly getting) what he wanted and who ended up working as the kitman for Stoke FC (a topic close to Gwilym’s heart!) for over 7 years. His story has recently been made into a BAFTA-winning BBC film. Its light-hearted vitality, as well as sounds of the football ground which are subtly woven in to the tapestry of this track, are enhanced with new meaning when you have this inspirational story in mind.
Such humorous titles, cross-culture referencing and progressive sound aim to move the music on this album further away from traditional perceptions of “jazz” and may, hopefully, attract and encourage the younger listener. Working with young musicians and helping to widen the audience of the “jazz” genre are both important to The Impossible Gentlemen, as a group and as individual artists. They will be taking up residence at the Sligo Jazz Project in Ireland for a second year in July – something that Gwilym notes has actually given them a fresh perspective on their own playing. Through teaching together as a group, they have been able to explore new aspects of their playing and musicality that they may never have experienced otherwise: “You never stop learning as a musician and so it is both a responsibility and an opportunity when you can get involved in education in this way”. Mike says he loves doing these kinds of things because the younger generation are so open to exploring music in all its forms and this influences their jazz playing, pushing the genre forward as it should be: “I love the openness of the young generation. They listen to everything – pop stuff, old jazz, new jazz, classical. I love that. Anyone I’ve ever played with who brings me joy has that openness.”
The Impossible Gentlemen – for whom it seems anything could be possible – prove with this album that they have a lot yet left to come. (pp)
Let’s Get Deluxe will be released on Basho Records on 1st July 2016.
The official album launch is on 26th July at Manchester Jazz Festival. The tour also includes a 2-night residency at Pizza Express, Dean Street, on 31st July and 1st August.
Full tour dates are on the band’s website: