Tag Archives: Gwilym Simcock

Brecon Jazz Festival roundup: 10 -11 August 2013

On Twitter a few days before Brecon Jazz Festival, Mercury Prize nominees Roller Trio promised they would be playing all our favourites at their gig at the Guildhall on Saturday night. So they started with Deep Heat, Roller Toaster and The Nail That Stands Up and then played us a few new tracks that had no name but had been saved by their recording engineer as Doris and I hope their new album has a track called Doris, there is something direct and no-nonsense about this band. My notes refer to Dalek music. This is music that Daleks would like if given half the chance. It is exciting, edgy, overwhelming, physical and above all, tuneful. They are fabulous, like a workout with no effort.

No old favourites for Phronesis earlier that afternoon. An excited full house at the Theatre (the queue to get in snaked for several hundred yards) were mesmerised by a set of new compositions, at least five of which had never been heard before outside of rehearsal. The set list included the sinister Urban Control, the haunting Lost Nomads, Life to Everything, the affectionate Herne Hill, Fraternal, Behind Bars, Fly on the Floor, two others with no name and an encore of Suede Trees. If we were guinea pigs for new sounds, we passed the test, the buzz afterwards was ecstatic. There were unmistakable signs of the wisdom and confidence gained from world touring, a vast auditorium-filling sound produced with seemingly minimal obvious effort, so relaxed is their partnership. Did I detect more arco than previously from Jasper? It felt very lyrical at times. There was an almost pastoral feel to one of the compositions. Now we all have to wait, patiently, til November when these gems will be recorded at the Cockpit and released on Edition Records.

The contrast between well estabished and new continued on Sunday – trumpet player Laura Jurd gave us a very complex and confident set at the Cathedral. The Cathedral’s acoustics provided the ideal place for her clear sound and for John Surman who followed. The John Surman Trio – a supergroup comprising Chris Lawrence on bass and John Marshall on drums – treated us to a largely improvised set of compositions inspired by the Cathedral and sunshine. The jewelled light from the stained glass and the cavernous space prompted huge, dark and sometimes scarey sounds, like vast flocks of birds speeding across a dark sky. The compactness of John Marshall’s technique (ex Soft Machine and Nucleus) produced lots of noise with minimal movement, an interesting comparison with powerful drummer Luke Reddin-Williams of Roller Trio whose theatrical gestures were as eye catching as they were effective.

My festival ended with another supergroup, the Anglo-American The Impossible Gentlemen, whose confidence and good humour provided the perfect prelude to leaving Brecon. We heard tracks from their upcoming album Internationally Recognised Aliens. I preferred their quieter compositions, notably the beautiful Ever After by Steve Swallow and Gwilym Simcock’s bluesy Barber Blues. which I had heard before, with Lighthouse in the same venue last year. If anyone can play a piano and make it look as if he is skimming across hot coals it is Gwilym. He is quite breathtaking and very engaging. And that was the magic of Brecon.

Mary James

Review: Simcock/Garland/Sirkis – Lighthouse at Brecon Jazz Festival 11 August 2012

There was a real buzz of excitement at the Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon, it was Saturday night and Lighthouse were up against the men’s 5000m race at the Olympic Stadium!  Lighthouse are a super-group comprising Tim Garland on various reeds, Gwilym Simcock on piano and Asaf Sirkis on percussion.  In their 75 minutes set we were treated to most of the album called Lighthouse (released earlier this year, celebrating their signing to ACT) and some old and new material.

What’s different about Lighthouse? Well, no bass for a start. And a fascinating drum kit for Asaf to conjure delightful sounds out of.   Not just a hang, but tiny cymbals, tambourines played like drums, tinkly bells and an earthenware instrument called an udu which looks like the moroccan tagine you might cook in.  Asaf plays the hang in the orthodox way with his fingers (not the Portico Quartet way) and in his hands it becomes a magical thing, the sound floating around the theatre, lingering in our memories still longer.   His extended solo on ‘King Barolo’ was a delight. We hear his interest in Indian rhythms, his pleasure in playing is captivating.

Here’s their genius, ‘One morning’ is a hymn to a new saxophone and a lament for a lost friend. It manages to be both wistful and celebratory at the same time.  Tim’s sax is at its most silky on ‘King Barolo’.  He played bass clarinet on the Spanish-influenced ‘Bajo del Sol’, Asaf’s drums reminding me of leopard running across a savannah.

It’s always a delight to listen to Gwilym’s light touch, especially evident in the thoughtful ‘The Wind on the Water’.  He manages to play a lot of notes without it sounding cluttered or heavy. He reminds me a little of John Taylor, with his delicacy, space and pastoral calm. I would say “Englishness” but Gwilym is, of course, Welsh.

The new tracks were ‘Empires’ by Gwilym and an amusing piece called ‘Accidental Tango’.  ‘Empires’ contained very dense layers of sound and different textures broken by delicate plucking of the piano strings. Tim told us that Astor Piazzolla described the best tempo for a tango as like someone standing behind you with a knife. With that scarey thought in mind the artists tried to trip each other up with abrupt stops and starts in ‘Accidental Tango’.   Like mind-readers they did not falter, they are a supergroup after all. At one stage all three artists were playing percussion and enjoying it immensely.

There are two tracks that I think are crying out for release as vinyl singles (if ACT does such a popular thing?). They are ‘Space Junk’ with its heavy insistent nightclub-like beat and the danceable ‘King Barolo’ with instantly memorable tune picked out by the hang.  I feel very strongly that tunes are important in engaging an audience and maybe a younger one.  As Branford Marsalis puts it in a recent Jazzwise article (Aug 2012) “the audience is not interested in doing extra homework to appreciate a jazz concert”.  So tunes and a strong beat are a way in.  Space Junk quickly leaves clubbing behind with its jaunty haunting melodica (a harmonica-like instrument, the sound we love on Asaf’s ‘Other Stars and Planets’). It opens the album and gets you in the mood for all the surprises to come.

The sound mixing at Theatr Brycheiniog was perfect and appreciated by artists and audience.    If I have one tiny reservation about them, it is to wonder why there is no material by Asaf in their repertoire?

And did they take our minds off the 5000m race? Well yes they did, until we got home!