Live review

Gwilym Simcock and The Storyhouse Big Band in Chester

Gwilym Simcock and The Storyhouse Big Band
(Storyhouse, Chester. 2 August 2019. Chester Music Festival. Review by Frank Griffith)

Gwylim Simcock and The Storyhouse Big Band (Photo: Mark Carline)

Big Band Jazz is truly alive and well in the North-West of the UK. Testimonial to this was the Storyhouse Big Band led by Welsh-born pianist, Gwilym Simcock. Like so many great UK big bands, this ensemble was composed of players from throughout the UK. The rhythm section included South-East stalwarts, Laurence Cottle on bass, drummer, Martin France and Gwilym Simcock, of course, as well as the virtuoso Lancashire guitarist Mike Walker.

The trumpet section boasted the talents of Londonderry-born,  Scottish-raised and current Londoner, Ryan Quigley. His mastery of the lead chair coupled with his riveting solos were offset by Kent-based trumpeter and composer, Steve Waterman. The saxes included Northerners,  Carl Raven, Rob Buckland and Andy Scott (all members of the  Apollo Sax Quartet) and  Mike Smith. Young altoist Alexander Bone shone impressively on his harmoncally rich piece, Flap Jack with his fluid soprano sax solo. Andy Scott offered two pieces, one of which Tampico, a medium tempo Latin groove brought a welcome change of pace to the proceedings wth its floating harmonies and similarly suited solos by all hands.

The trombones presented winning solo turns from the likes of Ellie Whitely and Harry Maund, both of whom incorporated melodic vocabulary from post- bebop stylists JJ Johnson and Carl Fontana while adding in their individual post-modern language as well.

The Storyhouse Big Band was clearly a cooperative effort featuring music from several of the band members. Two pieces by Laurence Cottle, I Got Rid of Em and his take on Benny Golson’s Killer Joe  illuminated the programme with exciting and challenging unison bebop lines and unpredictable forms and structures.

Gwilym Simcock (Photo: Mark Carline)

Simcock’s epic suite Sawgrass (named after a Florida town he was “holed up” in while on a USA tour) kicked off the second set. The twenty-minute piece explored a variety of tempi, grooves and sentiments from pathos to ebullience and hope.  Of particular impact for me was the wailing lyricism of Mike Walker’s guitar in unison with the full-on ensemble statements. This hearkened echoes of Kenny Wheeler’s combination of guitar, vocal and flugelhorn stating his iconic and anthemic melodies.

Tenor saxist,  Mike Smith’s Kimo Samba sparkled in its jollity and festive quirkiness. Excellent solos prevailed from the composer, Mike Walker and trombonist,  Ellie Whiteley. All of whom contributed to the spirit of celebration that characterized this concert.

Two poetic Steve Waterman compositions, October Arrival and Changing Courses were introduced with lush brass chorales leading to brisker tempi and animated moods enhanced by the pointed yet lyrical flugelhorn solos by the composer.

A truly great representation of what the UK can produce for large ensemble jazz. A memorable evening of music indeed.

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