‘Instrumation’ – Gwilym Simcock

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THE WORLDS of orchestral music and contemporary jazz have always been, for me, on a par, their life-enhancing qualities able to spark a similar depth of emotion and appreciation. Sometimes, however, when the two are brought face to face, the result can be less than convincing – at best, forced and unnatural; at worst, excruciatingly unpalatable. A successful synthesis requires an equal measure of advanced compositional and improvisatory insight, as well as accomplished performers who are responsive to the demands and challenges.

Cue pianist/composer Gwilym Simcock, The City of London Sinfonia conducted by Clark Rundell, double bassist Yuri Goloubev, drummer Martin France and guitarist John Parricelli. Classically trained, Simcock already has, in his early thirties, an extraordinary track record: involved in a huge array of international jazz projects; BBC Radio 3’s first New Generation Artist; various premières and commissions (including the BBC Proms); recently instrumental in the realisation of the inaugural BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition; and a string of solo and collaborative album releases to his name. So it’s fascinating to hear these new works, specifically written for orchestral and chamber formats.

Instrumation presents two original five-movement suites: Move!, a City of London Sinfonia commission for piano, orchestra, double bass, drums and guitar; and Simple Tales (more a collection of individual pieces) for quintet – piano, violin, cello, double bass and drums. Both are through-composed by Simcock whilst allowing improvisatory freedom within – and there’s a discernable sense of engagement and drive amongst the players which informs the cohesion and sophistication of this crossover.

Move!
Opening movement Clunky instantly reveals Simcock’s skill in conjoining orchestral and jazz quartet elements as the pressing momentum is embraced by all (this is no bolt-on orchestral backing). The palette of colours achievable in this vast line-up is impressive, the whole canvas filling until Simcock offers the first of two improvised piano interludes which bridge the three main movements. Chromatically-searching Interlude #1 becomes progressively Gershwin-like, connecting seamlessly with Columns, a statuesque and sumptuously-scored ‘Manhattan soundtrack’ which sees Simcock writing eloquently for brass (no surprise, given his own flair for the French horn). Interlude #2 finds the pianist exploring the physicality of his instrument, registering heavy muted strings, bodywork thumps and rapid, low register keyboard runs before bursting energetically into Industrial (For Alan), dedicated to his father (who, he says, appreciates “a tune you can actually tap your feet to!”). This final movement is the most intensely rhythmic, featuring echoic electric guitar from John Parricelli and measured drumming from Martin France (the extended drum and piano duet section particularly striking). Again, the City of London Sinfonia’s involvement is completely integral, combining with Simcock’s supple piano soloing to conclude what is a riveting (and no doubt exacting to perform) ‘big band’ finale.

Simple Tales
Simcock’s writing for quintet feels natural, his signature jazz piano style in Overture elaborated upon by the violin of Thomas Gould and cello of Will Schofield (the original trio concept was reworked to include bass and drums, which now provide its gentle impetus). The Theme is more introspective – lush chords plus Yuri Goloubev’s typically sensitive bass soloing; and Mr Bricolage dances both vibrantly and mischievously, the players revelling in its folksy freedom, and Martin France providing the flamboyant percussive license to ‘go for it’. The several minutes of Long Road meander in and out of ‘classical’ and ‘jazz’ piano trio formats (at times, perhaps a strange marriage) until, finally – this time in dedication to Simcock’s mother and her love of Celtic folk music – Dance! (for Ann) skips and pirouettes brightly (plucked strings reminiscent of Ravel or Britten, and Thomas Gould’s showy fiddle à la Mussorgsky), the five-piece seeming at its most balanced here – a joyous conclusion.

Released in the UK on 7 April 2014 by ACT Music.


Gwilym Simcock
piano
City of London Sinfonia conducted by Clark Rundell
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Martin France drums
John Parricelli guitar
Thomas Gould violin
Will Schofield cello

gwilymsimcock.com

ACT Music – 9564-2 (2014)

‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’: Duo Art – Gwilym Simcock & Yuri Goloubev

Reverie

PART OF ACT’S ‘DUO ART’ SERIES, ‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’ brings together two good friends from the contemporary jazz world – British pianist Gwilym Simcock and Russian (Milan-resident) double bassist Yuri Goloubev – for a programme of gloriously poetic brilliance.

Situated in Germany, towards the Austrian border, Elmau is a favoured stomping ground for Simcock – a recording retreat of creative calm, and the location for his solo piano album, ‘Good Days at Schloss Elmau’ (ACT, 2011). In this same environment, the pianist and bassist have woven together a sumptuous tapestry of co-written originals, drawn from their illustrious classical and jazz experiences – the appeal of this crossover confirmed by their recent, well-received live performance on BBC Radio 3’s established, chamber-focused Lunchtime Concert slot, as well as many international stage appearances.

Recording together previously (on ‘Blues Vignette’, as a trio with James Maddren – Basho, 2009), it’s clear that Simcock and Goloubev have developed a strong telepathic communication, their compositions leaping to the vibrant rhythms of jazz, as well as incorporating the grace and complex harmonic language of (amongst others I hear) Debussy, Ravel, Brahms and perhaps even Gershwin. Both musicians approach their craft with exacting precision, each able to ‘turn on a sixpence’ from emotional yearning – often characterised by Goloubev’s sustained, rhapsodic arco – to the tumbling, overflowing joy of Simcock’s dazzling piano.

Pastoral begins the journey with a pellucid, spacial simplicity which resembles Scandinavian folksong, pictorialised by droplet- and icicle-suggested effects before gaining gently-paced momentum – the first indication of the extraordinarily sensitive interaction that permeates the entire album. Also, it soon becomes apparent that these nine pieces are not for the background but, rather, demand close attention to fully appreciate the detail – indeed, importantly, at louder volumes the physical resonance is such that it’s easy to become involved at a much more intimate level. As an illustration, in Lost Romance, Goloubev’s lithe fingerwork annunciates every passage with such amazing depth, melodic accuracy, ringing harmonics and vibrato… it really is breathtaking, especially for an instrument so often consigned to plodding support! Shades of Pleasure explores major and minor keys with a luscious intertwining of piano and bass between its gently jarring main theme, set against a smoothly-ebbing piano ostinato, Goloubev again demonstrating his considerable dexterity.

In contrast to the duo’s quieter moments, Antics is a wondrously frolicking episode based around a familiar ‘playground jibe’ motif which the pair gladly tease each other with. Simcock seems to be establishing an upbeat pianistic style all of his own, featuring heavily accented chords and bounding baselines, best described as a ‘breakneck blues’ – such a compelling listen; and Yuri does well to chase him closely into every corner of these brisk four minutes. A Joy Forever tugs at the heartstrings, a beautifully emotive tune from the exquisite, cello-like fluidity of Goloubev, his switch from arco to fingered bass no less sublime (I recall seeing a young Gwilym Simcock playing many years ago with legendary drummer Bill Bruford – Earthworks, with Tim Garland – and the loftiness of this piece brings to mind Bruford’s own piano and bass gem, ‘Palewell Park’).

Non-Schumann Lied might be seen as reference to the artists’ classical beginnings, its songlike impressions maybe more elegantly Brahmsian in flavour; and Flow eddies and skips along to the lucid, colourful melodies that both instrumentalists share so keenly. The leggero ‘song without words’ feel of Vain Song finds Goloubev once again displaying a remarkable lightness of touch, Simcock hitting the heights of jazz soloing finesse (listen closely – this is a real treasure). And finally, an almost Elgarian Reverie (from the pen of 19th Century bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini) – its subtle Victorian shades, reminiscent of Chanson de Nuit, find Yuri Goloubev at his most classically lyrical (though not without idiosyncratic improvisatory interlude) against the restrained romantic piano of Simcock.

Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev are, separately, to be found in many different guises in a currently buzzing contemporary jazz scene. But here, they pause to forge beauty and majesty in this coming together of two acoustic instruments – illuminated, of course, by their combined musical genius.

‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’ is released on the ACT label – more information and audio samples here.


Gwilym Simcock
piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass

ACT 9624-2 (2104)