Jazz needs its heroes. Few ever come along.
Here’s a rare sighting.
Led by the Welsh born 35-year-old pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock and by the Salford born 53-year-old English guitarist Mike Walker, these heroes are captured in a wide angle musical lens for the first time. Their third album released during the same week as the Pat Metheny Quartet of which Simcock is a member play Ronnie Scott’s, the new Impossible Gentlemen line-up this time introduces reedist Iain Dixon to make the band a regular five piece (his bass clarinet riffing on ‘Speak To Me of Home,’ for instance, is a beaut). Ex-Pat Metheny Group player Steve Rodby makes a big contribution, co-producing the album and playing the role of bass everyman. His fellow American Adam Nussbaum is again a significant strong and brooding presence on drums.
It is five years since the band debuted out of the blue (Jimmy Giuffre legend Steve Swallow was in the original quartet). And they returned, refreshed, and even better on Internationally Recognised Aliens which followed in 2013. But the new one is the best yet even after loads of listens. Speaking of what’s up this time around: “We really didn’t want this album to be all ‘bells and whistles’ just for the sake of it, so we worked extremely hard to craft the sound of each song, and chose the instrumental colours we felt worked best on a tune-by-tune basis,” Simcock told me last week from out there on the road with big Pat.
The Walker-Simcock writing is immaculate and has huge spirit and tenderness to it. Its scope includes a tribute to John Taylor (called ‘It Could Have Been A Simple Goodbye’) who died last year and who Simcock had studied with briefly when he was a student at the Royal Academy of Music. There is also a lot of sophisticated but organic overdub production needed because Simcock plays a big range of instruments, including his long cherished French horn plus flugel, accordion, keyboards and synths, vibes and marimba even, as well as his main instrument the piano of which he is a master player. The folksy goosebumps-inducing ‘Propane Jane’ is one of the standout tunes, Nussbaum’s scuzzily visceral tribal drumming a factor, everyone bouncing off each other as the jam opens up after the deceptively folksy opening.
While there are many layers to the studio production and a lot of width to the sound the Impossible Gentlemen sound like a small group still. A driving, compulsive, jazz-rock feel retains your interest throughout and there is no machismo anywhere to spoil or swamp the effect but none of these guys are wallflowers either. Walker sounds much less John Scofield-like these days, long since completely his own man, and has so much coiled power at his disposal that it’s ridiculous and yet he is such a sensitive player when he needs to be as his quieter passages prove. Daring, imaginative stuff, then. Simply a thrill. A lightning strike of an album. SG
Released on 1 July
The hardanger fiddle, often a fairly doleful reservoir of resonant wood and heart wrenching pre-industrial age string sounds, projects an austere sensibility and dark palette brought to life in improvised settings by masters like Nils Økland, has more profile now than ever and not only in Norway.
The Apneseth trio crouched around the fiddle matches the leader’s virtuoso playing to electric guitar and drums on ‘The Other Room’ as the title translates into English but there isn’t a huge amount of joy to be gleaned here apart from in the sheer skill of their ability and craft. They’ve been around sufficiently long enough to distil a highly traditional vision into something that has modern context by factoring in a bit of tech but where the fourth instrument lurking and remaining significant is brooding silence.
Fusing the fairly ancient and fairly modern together only emphasises the deep traditions of the musical style rather than its modernity, the guitar never really on the verge of ever letting go, the fiddle a repository for intense lamentation as is the overall atmosphere. Fun, fun, fun. SG
‘Trollsuiten’ from the beginning of the album, is above