on 22 December 2009
Gwilym Simcock, during a Yamaha masterclass he was giving to sixth form jazz students in Cambridge recently, told us he was training to be a concert pianist and gradually realised that his future was being mapped out: that of reproducing a repertoire of classical music with some fairly tight restrictions on how he might perform it - provided largely by the notation. While classical music remains a passion of his, he decided that he wanted much more freedom than that and decided to switch to studying jazz improvisation.
I've seen him play many times in recent years - as a soloist, with Acoustic Triangle, with his trio and others - and I'm convinced he made the right decision! However he hasn't abandoned his ties with the classical tradition: in fact his view from the twin pinnacles of jazz and classical performance give him sight of creative possibilities that few others can access.
Gwilym certainly has the awe-inspiring technique of a top recital pianist, but combines it with a creative energy drawn not only from jazz greats but also from the whole history of classical composers and performers.
When you listen to the 'Blues Vignette' double album for the first time be prepared for a bit of a surprise. Firstly this is one of the most musically expressive albums I've heard for a long time and has an emotional depth and energy that is normally associated with the piano greats: Daniel Barenboim, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, Artur Rubinstein. Secondly, his musical thought and its communication always comes before showing off his amazing technical ability. The fireworks of technical brilliance are certainly on display throughout this double album but they are a tool used for, rather than in place of, his engaging musical narrative. And Gwilym is a great musical story-teller!
The CD 1 is of solo performances. His beautiful composition, 'Little People', opens it and is sheer delight: light of touch, with the grace of Chopin and the harmonic and melodic drive of Peterson. My favourite track is his beautiful rendition of the slow movement from Grieg's 'Piano Concerto', treated to a mostly understated jazz interpretation, without losing the character or the beauty of the original.
CD 2 brings in other musicians - including his trio and cello - with more of his own compositions alongside interpretations of jazz standards. All very lyrical, with an expressive range that never fails to delight and communicate, backed up with a technical prowess that scintillates but serves.
'Blues Vignette' is simply fantastic music. It is a self-portrait of Gwilym, still not yet 30, whose musical father is 'classical music' and whose musical mother, 'jazz'. Their musical offspring continues to develop as a wonderful and complex creative musician, who draws effortlessly from both parents. I can't recommend 'Blues Vignette' strongly enough.
on 24 March 2011
My first experience of Gwilym Simcock was a live performance he gave about a year ago, shortly after the release of this album. It was absolutely phenomenal; on the back of his trio's fine performance this evening I snapped up this double-cd right away. In my view, Jazz is almost always better live; inevitably coming off the real thing onto this recording I much less excited, but in the time since I've found that I listen to it more and more and have come to appreciate its own merits a great deal.
The first CD is of solo performances, some of them Ketih Jarrett-esque improvisations, presumably without any pre-meditated planning or compositional element. Also included is a two-movement duo suite for piano and cello. The second CD features Simcock with his trio, Bassist Yuri Gobuley and Drummer James Madryn. In my view the second CD is superior to the first; excellent music throughout; mostly originals (I particularly enjoyed "Tundra") but a couple of standards which nevertheless are given a clearly idiosyncratic doing-over. Simcock's style is virtuosic without being difficult; inspired perhaps by a classical background; and his fellow-players are excellent accompanists, although I felt there was a bit much arco Bass for a jazz record. The first CD is less consistent; the Cello suite was nice but left me merely lukewarm, and the three free-improvisations will seem fairly unexciting to those used to Keith Jarrett's improvisations. The piano solo originals are excellent however, as is the improv. on the slow movement of Grieg's piano concerto (playing jazz with Classical tunes is nothing new of course but this is an excellent example of where it works).
Good stuff, we can only hope this is just the start of a long career of excellent music!