We interviewed Rick Simpson, whose second CD as leader, Klammer, is about to be released on Two Rivers Records on 30th September (launch gig on 22nd September at the Vortex, Dalston):
LondonJazz: Rick, what’s happened since the last record?
Rick Simpson: Well, I found myself gravitating to jazz where the writing was more of an event, and less of an an excuse for some improvising. I’d always been a fan of that kind of approach, since being a fan of Kenny Wheeler’s Music for Large and Small Ensembles in my teenage years and a huge Django Bates devotee. I realised that composition held a massive sway for me and was something I wanted to explore. On the first record, Semi Wogan, I’m proud of some of those tunes, but it’s really quite a standard head-solo-head affair. On Klammer there’s only one tune that follows that structure, which I wrote to serve as a break from all the through-composed material. Writing for a larger ensemble and having a lot of written material allows you to own your music a bit more, I think. That said, the challenge is to find ways in which we can be spontaneous with these forms, and that’s something which will develop, the more we play.
LJ: When and where was it recorded?
RS: We were really lucky to get three days together in Eastcote Studios in West London, back in March. It’s a fantastic studio and George Murphy made the whole process a breeze. I was really grateful that Eastcote have a wonderful selection of instruments lying around, so I got to play an MS-10 monosynth and a harmonium in some free time before the studio closed. Alex Bonney did an amazing job with the mix and Peter Beckmann mastered the whole record, making it sound incredible. Alex and Peter really are the go-to mixing and mastering team for a reason.
LJ: What excites you about playing music?
RS: Improvising in any context. I love playing all music, and all of the history of jazz. Variety excites me. I can play steaming post-bop jazz with Leo Richardson’s Quartet at Ronnie Scott’s one night and then play with Jay Phelps’ Quartet the next, playing music that draws from free jazz, m-base and hip-hop. I’ve never wanted to limit myself to which area of jazz I play, so I’ve tried to soak in as much as possible and be open to everything. I hope that comes across on this record!
LJ: And what inspired the tunes on the album?
RS: A lot of music from composers I admire – Dan Weiss, Django Bates, John Hollenbeck, Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, Stravinsky… but also things that are happening in our scene these days. I can’t deny that I just wanted to write, and sometimes the tunes aren’t about anything other than me trying to express what music I admire and offering a sort of tribute to it. But at certain points, there are deliberate musical allusions; things which I find funny or weird about the scene we have here – but I’ll leave that for people to interpret. I think I made deliberate choices, whilst composing, that I wanted to write something which would serve a purpose. Sea Change and Orbital were definitely written with the intent of giving the listener a breather. I always try and imagine how my music might be received, whilst I’m writing, and try and make it as direct as possible without sacrificing any musical integrity.
LJ: Tell us about who’s on this record.
RS: George Crowley, tenor saxophone, has been in my bands for a long time now, so he really understands where everything is coming from. I love musicians, like George, who can play the whole history. I’ve heard him cover the whole history on one gig before and variety of language excites me. George has an almost unparalleled knowledge and understanding of what’s going on in jazz and our scene, so having him around is essential.
Michael Chillingworth, on assorted reed instruments, has been my closest musical ally for about ten years now. He’s an incredible musician and composer, and I really feel that he’s hugely overlooked. He’s light years ahead and I’m honoured that he’s willing to play my music. Check him out – especially his new record, Scratch and Sift.
Ralph Wyld, on vibraphone – it blows my mind that someone his age can play like that. He can read anything instantly and burns everything up. He’s just done a record of his own too with his band Mosaic.
Tom Farmer, on bass, is one of my favourite musicians in the world, period. Everything he plays is perfect for the music and he’s an incredibly supportive bass player, internalising everything so quickly so he can get his head out of the chart and really improvise. I caught Empirical a couple of times this summer and they sounded absolutely incredible. The best band we have in the UK.
Dave Hamblett completes the line up on drums. Dave has incredible facility at his instrument and nails everything he plays. He brings a real energy to the group and is an integral part of this band’s sound. Listen to him tear it up on Beware of Gabriel Garrick Imitators. I wrote this as kind of drum concerto for Dave to play.
LJ: And you enjoy composing and bandleading?
RS: I do. I’m super proud of this record, especially the first four tunes and the last two – I think they came out better than I could have hoped for, but it’s stressful at times! I think I’m more relaxed on stage as a sideman, but I’m working on that. It’s also quite confusing about how you progress your career doing your own thing, and often it’s a battle getting anyone in the press to take any notice of you; so it’s comforting having side-man gigs. But, ultimately, I love writing music and I’m happy with what I came up with for this record.
LJ: What’s next?
RS: Well, I’m going to book more gigs for this band and keep it as a long-term project that always plays. I’d love to do another record with them at some point in the future, probably with an expanded line-up. But the next thing that I’m looking to do is have a band which is nothing to do with jazz, a straight-up indie-rock band or something. I love Deerhoof and Animal Collective very dearly, and music with vocals has always connected with me in a special way. So I’m hoping, in 2017, I can finally start a project which is just song based.
LJ: The record is being released on Two Rivers Records, right?
RS: It is, and I’m indebted to the wonderful work and support of Alya Al-Sultani who founded and funds the label’s work. She’s a force of nature and I love her dearly. We could not have done this without her. Check out the website, and Alya’s own music on tworiversrecords.org.
LJ: Definitely looking forward to hearing the album.
LJ: Thanks for doing the interview, Rick – and very good luck with the album!