Gwilym Simcock – Near and Now
(ACT Music – ACT 9883-2. CD review by Adrian Pallant)
It would be easy to imagine likely lyrical influences on the style of Gwilym Simcock, such as Keith Jarrett and John Taylor – and there are specific clues in the dedicatees of every work on this, his second solo piano release for the ACT Music label. But one distinction is an innate ability to groove dynamically and expansively; so much so that the likes of Keith Emerson, Bruce Hornsby or Patrick Moraz might also be included in a list as long as his keyboard reach.
Simcock is an in-demand artist, hailed ‘a creative genius’ by Chick Corea, who has collaborated with Bill Bruford and Stan Sulzmann, as well as taking key roles in Tim Garland’s Lighthouse Trio, The Impossible Gentlemen and, more recently, Pat Metheny’s quartet. So maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise that these personal expressions are frequently infused with hard jazz-rock vigour – an impressive evolution of the maturity already heard earlier in the piano pieces of 2011’s Good Days at Schloss Elmau (ACT), and Blues Vignette before that.
Recorded at home in Berlin on a newly-acquired Steinway B (custom-rebuilt, and originally dating from around 1900), the method for putting together material for Near and Now was the reverse of usual practices. “Many albums are written at home and then recorded out ‘on the road’, but I decided to do it the other way round”, says Simcock, while also referring to the enjoyable challenge of creating a “satisfying arc” to his compositions. As a solo-instrument release, the rewards of in-depth listening are many, and that overarching structure can indeed be heard as one discovers more about this music.
Three-movement Beautiful Is Our Moment (for Californian pianist-composer Billy Childs) immediately delights as an introductory cascade heralds a broad American-tinged folk tune which becomes elaborated upon through lush harmonies and tremulant rivulets. With a middle section of rolling, inflected chromatics and deeply-plumbed grooves, this feels like a sound world which, characteristically, could only arrive from Simcock’s heart and hands, his final movement recapitulating in sumptuous, shimmering grandeur. Before the Elegant Hour (for Brad Mehldau) ranges wildly from waltzing Sunrise, Sunset impressions, through pointillistic Ginastera-like bass verve, to complex bluesy inflections; and heartfelt miniature You’re My You (for Simcock’s extraordinary yet humble mentor from Chetham’s days in Manchester, pianist Les Chisnall) hints at elementary lessons in jazz form, soon to be embellished with rising shafts of golden sunlight.
Breezy Inveraray Air (for Russell Ferrante, of LA–based Yellowjackets) travels primarily on ‘one tiny four-note melodic cell’, its ebullience countered with lochside tranquillity and the occasional hymnal echo floating across its strong rhythms. Three-part finale Many Worlds Away (for Brazilian virtuoso Egberto Gismonti) is Simcock’s most pensive, improvisatory performance of the album; furtively treading a path through sparse discords and clusters, he widens the vistas with dramatic swell and pellucid elegance before reaching a resolute, dancing journey’s end.
As leader or sideman (never just a ‘sideman’!), Gwilym Simcock is one of the most exciting and progressive British jazz musicians of our generation. Near and Now provides an alternative glimpse – the solo pianist in private, but extending an invitation to share in his intimate creativity. For us, allowing it the space it requires is a privilege and a joy.
Near and Now is released today.