Geoff Simkins Trio – in a quiet way
(Symbol Records SR20170301. CD review by Mike Collins)
Listening to this sublime trio outing from alto-ist Geoff Simkins with Nikki Iles on piano and Dave Green on bass, I initially found myself at a loss for words (uncharacteristically as my more waspish friends might say).
Fortunately the elegant, eloquent swinging music speaks for itself and liner notes for the three musicians also seem to put the finger on some of the special ingredients. This is Simkins’ gig and it’s his voice that characterises the sound. In her note, Nikki Iles refers to the “twists and turns of (his) softly spoken lines”, capturing something of the essence of the leader’s playing beautifully. There’s a melodic and meditative logic to sinuous lines that thread through the most complex of harmonic changes even at burning tempos.
The repertoire too is Simkins to the core. Of course a Lee Konitz piece, Friend-Lee, then a couple of song-book standards Make Someone Happy and Nobody else but me. A life time immersed in this music means he’s something of curator of less known gems. There’s a couple Bill Evans-esque pieces by Earl Zinders and a fiendish Josh Rutner setting of Moose the Mooch over the harmony of Evans’ Very Early called Mooch too Early. Kenny Wheeler’s Old Ballad and a sumptuous, langourous tribute from the trio to Dave Cliff For DJC complete the set. The ingredients are all there, but it’s the playing that illuminates and moves the listener.
“.. the essence and the joy of jazz music is achieving moments of perfect group interaction” says Dave Green in his note. They aced it a few times on this set. Friend-Lee is Konitz line over the harmony Just Friends. It fizzes with energy as Simkins’ solo blends into Iles and they dance around each other as Green propels them with headlong momentum. From the first chord and bass pedal note on Nobody else but me there’s something special happening. Simkins spins out long lines and then it takes off like a rocket in lles’ solo, her and Green seem to be on fire.
Simkins has, as he observes, “often been stowed in a compartment labelled ‘Cool School’ “. Maybe that helps locate some of the sources on which he personally has drawn, but there’s nevertheless a distinctiveness to his playing that the tag misses. Perhaps a school of his own is in order: the ‘Quiet School ‘ anyone?
Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman