The announcement that the transatlantic quartet was adding a saxophonist conjured up in the imagination a substantial change in the sound of the band. Would the British co-leaders, guitarist Mike Walker and pianist Gwilym Simcock, be settling in behind a tenor-blowing front man, sharing the band’s solo space three ways?
But of course, Walker and Simcock have never taken the obvious, clichéd route. Their chosen fifth member, probably Walker’s longest-running partner in music, Iain Dixon, is a hugely versatile and subtle player. Of course he could deliver as rambunctious a saxophone solo as the most energetic bar-walker in the world, but that is not what is required of him here.
In fact, a lot of the time you might only notice Iain Dixon’s contribution – his flutes or clarinet tucked in there behind Simcock’s synths or alongside French horn or flugelhorn – if it were to be removed from the mix. His most obvious role is in the final number, Speak To Me Of Home, where he not only provides some crucial bass clarinet foundations but also some soprano saxophone rooftop decorations. In fact his is the last note you hear on the album, and it’s one of those notes that confirms what you have been thinking for a while – that you are going to press play again immediately. Yep, this third disc from the Impossgents is one of those endless repeating pleasures.
A lot of reviews will no doubt link this band to the Pat Metheny Group – it’s only natural, with guitar and keyboards prominent in the sound, long-time PMG bassist Steve Rodby in the band, having taken original bassist Steve Swallow’s place a few tours and an album-and-a half-ago, and Simcock currently touring with Metheny (and at Ronnie Scott’s in London with him this week). Like the PMG, TIG often favour a spirit-lifting, anthemic development in their arrangements. But to me the TIG has always had a tighter, tougher, more focussed approach and sound – maybe it’s the protagonists’ hailing from a less spacious, less laid-back land, must mostly it’s that both Walker and Simcock have their own very well established sounds and styles – sounds and styles that, to my ears, have blossomed even more luxuriantly in each other’s company.
Whereas previously writing credits have gone to them individually Walker and Simcock have been steadily increasing their collaborative writing and in true Lennon/McCartney fashion all the tunes here have a double credit. Of course, as with John and Paul, one can always guess which co-composer was the dominant force in a particular piece. So, Speak To Me Of Home seems to me to have a classic, long melodic line in the Simcock style, while A Fedora For Dora, despite having a Simcockian initial tune, has something of the Walker about it, reminding me more than a little of the material on his album Madhouse And The Whole Thing There.
And let’s not forget the Americans! Steve Rodby and drummer Adam Nussbaum bring such a solid, yet flexible, groove to everything they do; they might not be out front much of the time, but they always provide the complete backdrop and underpinning.
The real step forward with this album – and it’s been clear in the band’s live performances in the last year or so – is the attention given to arrangements, to the interweaving of themes and sub-themes, of melodies and counter-melodies, of subtle changes in direction within a piece which nevertheless keep the cohesion of the whole. Simcock’s expansion of his instruments from piano on the first album to piano, keyboards, French horn, flugelhorn, accordion, vibraphone, marimba and percussion on this one, together with the production experience that Rodby brings, means that there is loads more depth of timbre and complexity to the layering of the music. And yet, it never sounds over-complicated, never fussy.
A final special mention for Mike Walker – his solos are such a joy, his palette of sound broad but always so identifiably his. Surely no one brings this kind of blues/rock attack and grunt to a jazz setting quite so successfully.
I realise it’s a little sacreligious to say this, but I must confess, much as I love my many Pat Metheny albums and have enjoyed seeing him numerous times in concert with all kinds of bands, I decided to forego the PM gigs at Ronnie’s this week, not only because of the (understandably) high ticket prices but because I am just far more excited by the thought of seeing and hearing The Impossible Gentlemen again soon!
- The Impossible Gentlemen will launch this album at the Royal Northern College of Music on Tuesday 26 July as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival. They will also be playing Perseverance Farm, Henley on Thames on Saturday 16 July, Hawk’s Well Theatre, Sligo as part of Sligo Jazz Project, a venue TBC in Dublin on Thursday 28 July, Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on Sunday 30 July and Monday 1 August, and Watermill Jazz in Dorking on Tuesday 2 August. There will be more dates in October.
- Follow The Impossible Gentlemen HERE.
Categories: CD review