Album reviews

Liam Noble & Geoff Simkins – ‘Lucky Teeth’

Liam Noble & Geoff Simkins: ‘Lucky Teeth’
(FMR Records FMRCD659-0423. Album review by Frank Graham)

It would be remiss not to remark on the album’s enigmatic title, an allusion to the bizarre exploits of 19th Century music hall artiste Albert “Zanetto” Bale. Bale’s repertoire included catching vegetables on a fork clasped between a gap in his front teeth, and on one occasion he reportedly caught a turnip thrown from Clifton Suspension Bridge in front of a crowd of 5000.

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Whether bold or foolhardy, most would surely agree that there are easier ways to earn a living. The story could perhaps be read as a parable for lot the modern day jazz musician, battling against the odds while creating work of real artistic value. As pianist Liam Noble explained in a recent interview with LJN, one of his goals for this set was to make an album to be proud of on a shoestring budget. The music was expertly recorded at London’s Vortex by Alex Killpatrick in October 2022, and the well paced programme of standards, originals, contemporary classics and a left-field pop cover certainly fulfils Noble’s brief.

Each piece is a launchpad for the duo’s dazzlingly intuitive interplay, and whether playing empathetic counterpoint, thrilling chase sequences or exchanging good-natured blows, their orbits are always aligned. Geoff Simkins’s impeccable post-Konitz credentials are on full display on the opening track, “Stella By Starlight”, his sweeping melodic improvisation straight from the top-drawer.

Noble’s sensitive comping and the deft shift of focus in his angular solo is no less impressive, a marker for so much of the intelligent music which follows. Ellington’s “Warm Valley” is given a similarly expansive treatment, the duo falling back on
several decades of combined experience to re-contour the material at will. Perhaps the biggest talking point however is the cover of Duran Duran’s “Save A Prayer”. Taylor and Rhodes’ lilting chord sequence is fertile ground for an improviser of Simkins’ calibre, and the melody only fully emerges deep into the performance.

Keith Jarrett’s “Memories Of Tomorrow”, the coda from his 1975 Köln Concert, is the pick of the newer pieces, though the boppish reading of Steve Swallow’s “Eiderdown” is pretty special too. Listening to it back-to-back with the version cut by the Bill Evans Trio with Konitz and Marsh on the 1978 LP “Crosscurrents”, I’d be hard pressed to say which I prefer.

Closing with the cheeky cat-and-mouse of ‘When You’re Smiling”, I was taken back to a statement from Noble’s recent LJN interview: “there’s freedom in playing standards and discipline in playing free”. It’s a principle that runs through the set like a golden thread, and the duo’s relaxed virtuosity and adventurous spirit brings some exciting new perspectives on “the

LINK: Liam Noble explains the background to Lucky Teeth

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