CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK
Well, it wasn’t quite what I expected. With a second album talked about and a European tour coming to an end, I expected to hear a lot of new music from this transatlantic supergroup of guitarist Mike Walker, pianist Gwilym Simcock, electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum.
As it turned out we heard three new pieces that will be on the already recorded new album (it’s due for release early next year) but the bulk of the generous two sets was made up of tunes we had first heard when the band played only its second gig (in May 2010) and which then appeared on last year’s eponymous first album (on Basho Records).
So, was I disappointed? Hell, no!
It was a huge pleasure to hear Walker’s Clockmaker, When You Hold Her and Wallenda’s Last Stand, Simcock’s You Won’t Be Around To See It, and Nussbaum’s Sure Would Baby again, developed and matured, with fresh crannies explored and new balances discovered along the way. They were strong pieces to start with but now they have taken on monumental stature. You Won’t Be Around To See It, Simcock’s tune based on the changes of Softly As A Morning Sunrise (his title comments on the original, geddit?) took an even darker turn than previously – Simcock mentioned Hammer Horror – with the whole band slowly moving towards ugly-beautiful abstraction and then coming back again.
What is really striking about this band is their sense of dynamics. If you were to hear the start of When You Hold Her, for example, and then blank out for five minutes, you would come to thinking you were in a different tune altogether, maybe even a different gig. How have these four charming gentlemen turned this delicate piano introduction and quiet bass guitar musing into this searing, sustain-drenched rock guitar, hard-grooving monster? And so naturally and seamlessly? I guess that’s where the “Impossible” bit comes in.
And what of the new stuff? Well, Modern Day Heroes and Heute Leute are a further departure in that they are Simcock/Walker co-compositions, and they also push that rock-tinged edge further with Walker exploiting his electric blues and chugging funk guitar leanings to great effect. Swallow’s relatively brief and gorgeous ballad Ever After provided the calm in between the building storms. All were beautifully played and suggest the band’s Janus-like character is reaching new and exhilarating heights.
Again, the added pleasure with this band is that these four men look and sound so very happy to be in each other’s company. And so were we!
- Good news for the ever-increasing Mike Walker fan club is that he returns in the new year with his old mate Iain Dixon for a Birmingham Jazz gig at the Barton Arms. Dixon – on saxophone and sometimes clarinet – is a marvellous player too, and not heard down this way nearly often enough. For more about this gig and to book tickets, go here.
Categories: Live review