Disc of the day: 30-11-09

Gwilym Simcock: Blues Vignette (Basho Music SRCD 32-2)
Gwilym Simcock and his record company are extremely generous people. This album is a double CD, the first consisting of the pianist solo and in a duo with cellist Cara Berridge, the second a piano trio set with Yuri Goloubev on double bass and James Maddren on drums. The first is nearly 70 minutes in length, the second over the hour. And either would have given the listener a musical feast of the most sustaining kind.

Simcock said in the liner notes to his first release, Perception (also on the Basho label) how an album is a snapshot of where the artist is at the moment and indicates that this shows not only where he has got to as a soloist but also, since this is a new trio, where he is going in the future.

So, first the man alone. His technique, classically learned and jazzily expanded, is beginning to sound effortless along with being virtuosic, and that makes for a less knotted brow when listening – and a broader smile, too. The opener is the light-stepping Little People – lyrical, joyous and showing some Petrucianni influence, and he follows it with a jazz interpretation of a bit of the Grieg piano concerto. The stately opening chords are exquisitely stated, slow and pensive, and the improvisation remains classically voiced with the heart very much worn on the sleeve but no blues or jazz-inflected tricksiness. That shows the maturity of the man.

He quickly moves on to playing the whole piano – casing as well as deadened strings – in a funky intro to On Broadway before making it sound like a piece for two pianos. He continues  with three insightful improvisations and two more solo compositions, one dedicated to those two passed masters, Jaco and Joe.

Then it’s in with the cello and a gorgeous two-part suite written by Simcock and inhabiting that now perfectly happy world – created in the last 30 years or so and often on the ECM label – where jazz and the western European tradition meet.

And so to the beginning of something really big – or, at least I hope it grows into that: a major piano trio on the world stage, up there with Mehldau, the Standards Trio, with Charlap’s and Barron’s and the Stefano Bollani Trio – because Simcock, Goloubev and Maddren do sound they have found a magical place already.

You might be forgiven for thinking that at the beginning of Disc 2 and Introduction, Berridge is still in the band – no one plays arco bass quite as precisely and with a cello-like singing tone as Yuri Goloubev, and it means that Simcock can indulge his more classically tinged fancies with someone who can do that too. And Maddren is such a musical drummer, and able somehow to wrap himself around the band – even on a big stage he can sound like he is coming from all corners, though he never overwhelms, is always supportive, almost cosseting.

This second disc is just an unadulterated joy from beginning to end – through the great finale section of Tundra, through the cinematic title track, through the seriously funky Sonny Burke tune Black Coffee. On this and to a much greater extent on Gershwin’s Nice Work If You Can Get It, the trio plays with the timing in a fascinating way. On the latter the speed and feel changes every couple of bars, and still they make it all make sense!

Simcock removes all the cheap emotion that has wrought in popular versions of Cry Me A River (has it ever featured in one of those X-Factor talent things?) and restores all its inherent beauty and heartfelt nature.

We end in 1981, the year of the pianist’s birth, and back in a driving optimistic place, rich with riffs, cymbal splashes and some lovely bass/piano interaction in the Bill Evans-Scott La Faro fashion. A great album and hard to believe it’s still only in recording terms a sophomore outing. Long may this trio last.

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