‘Crimson!’ – Delta Saxophone Quartet with Gwilym Simcock


THE VERY THOUGHT might well make prog rock fans see red… but the connections with and reinterpretations of King Crimson in new piano and saxophone quartet work Crimson! are not as distant, nor as incongruous, as you may first imagine.

Delta Saxophone Quartet are immersed in commissioned, contemporary classical environments which include the typically propulsive music of Steve Martland, Steve Reich and Gavin Bryars, as well as the work of jazz composers such as Mike Westbrook; and they have previously arranged and recorded Soft Machine (their Aubade and Tale of Taliesin transcriptions – from original 1976 album Softs – are especially fascinating). But a chance encounter between pianist Gwilym Simcock and Delta’s baritone saxophonist Chris Caldwell (at the home ground of Stoke City FC, beloved of both musicians) netted this new project centred around seminal prog band King Crimson’s albums Starless and Bible Black, THRAK and Beat. A notable link for Simcock is that he joined the line-up of ex-Crimson drummer Bill Bruford’s Earthworks project, which included saxophonist Tim Garland (and I recall a live gig which certainly threw the pianist’s fledgling career into the spotlight).

So, how does a saxophone quartet (not just any old sax quartet, I might add) and a jazz pianist adapt, say, the dry vocals and punchy electric bass playing of John Wetton and specific guitar/electronics style of maestro Robert Fripp? Well, it’s quite a revelation, especially when it’s accepted that this is not a straight covers album – far from it. Recognising the powerful, unrelenting riffs and restless, dark colours associated with King Crimson, Gwilym set about identifying pieces which might best translate into this new arena, for quartet with or without piano, choosing to reimagine rather than copy. The key to its success has to be the combined vigour of all five players: Delta for their precision and dynamism; Simcock for his characteristically percussive, rhythmic energy across the piano keyboard.

As a prelude to five expansive arrangements, Simcock’s own A Kind of Red folds lyrical beauty and sprightliness into driving momentum, with upwardly spiralling soprano sax and leaping piano grooves cavorting together across lithe chordal sax textures (the writer alludes to the challenge of writing for only “four notes at any one time”); a masterly piece of contrapuntal composition thrown into sharp focus when the horns go it alone. Hitting the ground running, with recognisable shadowy mystery, Vrooom and Coda: Marine 475 swap the menacing Belew/Levin electric guitar/bass landscape for baritone-throbbing promenading and Simcock’s jazz inflections (with even a whiff of Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk); and the original wistful vocals of The Night Watch are translated into lush sax harmonies and buoyant piano, shifting in so many directions.

Dinosaur possesses an audacious swagger (Simcock particularly bluesy), as opposed to the urgent siren-like drive of the original, and portrays its central serenity quite magically; and Two Hands, quietly popping to mechanical sax ‘percussion’, feels so lyrically far-removed from Crimson territory, yet owns a delightful jazz delicacy. To close, perhaps the show-stopper – Starless and Bible Black‘s unmistakable The Great Deceiver at full tilt, reinterpreting the familiar ’70s electric riff and vocal with panache. OK, it’ll never replace the original, but that’s not the intention – its Crimsonesque verve, wailing sax improv and pianistic sparkle are infectious.

Whether or not you were ‘there’ through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, Crimson! is a stylish and rattlingly good experience. Released on Basho Records on 26 February 2016, the album can be purchased from Jazz CDs.


Delta Saxophone Quartet:
Graeme Blevins soprano saxophone
Pete Whyman alto saxophone
Tim Holmes tenor saxophone
Chris Caldwell baritone saxophone
Gwilym Simcock pianoforte


Basho Records – SRCD 50-2 (2016)


‘The Hour of Pearl’ – Philip Clouts Quartet


AS THE BEAUTIFUL, atmospheric album art of Philip Clouts Quartet’s new release implies, the music of ‘The Hour of Pearl’ references nature and the passing of time, taking John Steinbeck’s writings as inspiration – the ‘hour’ being “the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself”.

Following in the footsteps of pianist Clouts’ previous ‘Sennen Cove’ collection, which drew on the experiences of his own West Dorset home location, these eight original compositions have a joyful accessibility to them. But, perhaps not unlike searching for the treasures of that same Jurassic coastline, deeper investigation reaps rewards – in this case, heartwarming sounds from his high-ranking quartet team… Carlos Lopez-Real (alto and soprano saxes), Alex Keen (bass) and Jon Desbruslais (drums). Philip Clouts is immersed in jazz and world music, especially of his native South Africa, inspired by his father’s deep love of township jazz as well as such luminaries as pianists Abdullah Ibrahim and Chris McGregor – and that spirit lives through ‘The Hour of Pearl’.

So, to the album – and the unrelenting, piano-suggested waves of opening track, ‘Riptide’, immediately creating a vivid coastal impression, Desbruslais’ crashing and shimmering cymbals adding greatly to the imagery. Lopez-Real introduces a bright alto solo tune and subsequent improvisation before Clouts takes it off in other directions, bass and drums adding sparkle to the shared melodies. ‘On West Hill’ is one of the album’s homely, amiable numbers which suggests the familiarity of an old jazz favourite, the fluidity of Alex Keen’s bass solo a pleasure to hear. The positivity continues with the upbeat ‘Delta’ which, halfway through, suddenly changes up a gear, clearly to the delight of Lopez-Real who creatively runs with it. And never let it be said that drum solos are always long and tedious – Desbruslais times his impressively varied, Cuban-inflected percussive display here to perfection.

The jaunty, sunny ‘Flamingo-ing’ is irresistible as it skips happily along, Clouts obviously revelling in a playful mood which demonstrates, in block chords and octaves, the influences of his South African background, as well as a beautifully lyrical sax-led interlude. Title track ‘The Hour of Pearl’ paints ‘the interval between day and night’ in a more contemplative hue, characterised by a piano/bass unison riff interspersed with smooth alto lines. Triple time ‘Clef Mona’ dances alluringly and mysteriously, Lopez-Real’s soprano soaring above Clouts and his rhythm section who increasingly push the pace (coastline impressionism never far off).

With its delightful, held-back bossa feel, ‘As Evening Falls’ continues the theme of passing time, Lopez-Real’s low sax and Clouts’ luscious, sparing, major/minor accompaniment so sensitively felt; and Keen’s simple yet effective bass further enhances, to my mind, this portrayal of the peace of a Mediterranean afterglow. The gentle, skittering, rattling percussion and repeated piano motif of closing number ‘Nyasa Lullaby’ (a reinvention of a 2004 piece) again display African overtones, soprano improvising both fluidly and contentedly.

Philip Clouts’ jazz belongs to that long line of successful musicians who, rather than hammering at the outer limits of the avant-garde or free jazz world, create emotionally-felt, highly listenable melodies and improvisations which colourfully lift the spirits. A rather pleasing soundtrack to this late Summer transition into the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’.

‘The Hour of Pearl’ is released on Point Records on 23 September 2013, with an accompanying tour: http://www.philipcloutsquartet.co.uk/tour-dates

Purchase at: https://philipclouts.bandcamp.com/album/the-hour-of-pearl

Philip Clouts  piano
Carlos Lopez-Real  saxophones
Alex Keen  bass
Jon Desbruslais  drums, percussion

Point Records – PCD026 (2013)