A villainous looking man, his collar tucked up to scrape the side of his face, Spock-like ears pinned back, face covered in blood or lipstick, cocktail in hand, nails like talons. Behind him a femme fatale at the bar, smoke swirling above her head, beneath her shoes a trumpet and guitar abandoned on the floor. Over by the windows a bare chested moustachioed character in his underpants is talking to two young women in bikinis.
Welcome to the crazy cartoon superhero world of the Simians of Swing as illustrated by the cover of their self-titled debut album.
Led by London jam session supremo trumpeter Andy Davies – familiar from the long running Wednesday night hard bop jam upstairs in Ronnie’s bar – and by relative newcomer bassist Lorenzo Bassignani they turn in what they see as “eleven villainous tales of the macabre” – the style not at all swing as in the ring-a-ding-ding Johnny Mandel Sinatra-ised variety it’s worth pointing out, instead it’s more bustling hard bop cutting a dash dusted down for a new generation.
The Simians, a four-piece at their core, featuring drummer Saleem Raman and guitarist Luca Boscagin on most tracks, with guest guitarist Ant Law on a couple of tracks, keyboardists Sam Leak and Ivo Neame popping up for different spots on Rhodes and singer Polly Gibbons singing the ‘Afro-Blue’-hinting ‘Gangster in Love’ and ‘St Lucia’, Simians of Swing was largely recorded in the studio with ‘Soviet Supreme’ (above in the video) the exception recorded live at the Vortex jazz club.
Interpreting material largely written by either Davies or Bassignani the style skirts noir-ish hard bop via a swirl of Kenny Dorham or inuring Freddie Hubbard flavours, Davies providing the unstuffy period atmosphere not that it is slavishly stylised, the free flowing top lines set against a splash of rhythm section texture but sometimes a break or two from say Ant Law on ‘St Lucia’ rises up organically to prompt a plum Neame contribution. Davies’ moment really beams out in the emotion-laden stark solo at the beginning of ‘Soviet Supreme’ the band later showing how it can operate at a ridiculously fast clip on ‘Zion’ – all fluttery motion and devil-may-care. Released in September
Heroes and villains... Andy Davies and Lorenzo Bassignani, above
Simians of Swing play Hideaway, London on 17 September