Review: Gwilym Simcock and Wolfgang Muthspiel at Pizza Express Dean Street



Gwilym Simcock and Wolfgang Muthspiel
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 27th November 2013. Last night of Gwilym Simcock's Eurozone residency. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

First some bad news: pianist Gwilym Simcock fell on his hand last week and tore a ligament in his right thumb, needing surgery. The injury will take at least a few weeks to recover.  The anxieties he as a pianist may have been having in the past week don't bear thinking about, but I am told he is expected to make a complete recovery.

For his solo concert at the Hampstead Festival last Thursday, John Taylor (no less) was able to step in as his last minute replacement, although Gwilym did join him for a three-hand finale. Since then has performed a five-night 'Eurozone' residency at the Pizza Express left-hand only. The gig I went to was the final night of that residency.

He was playing opposite one of the top jazz guitarists in continental Europe, the Austrian Wolfgang Muthspiel. Muthspiel is one of those players whose credentials are impeccable, but who gets whispered about in awe by musicians rather than hawked about the place by a large label. He's not an attention-craver, not a particularly loud player either.Muthspiel may have been scaling down his game deliberately to match and contrast with a temporarily one-handed piano player last night, but he proved the perfect foil.

The qualities I really like in Muthspiel's playing (mainly from getting to know  the 2004 album Air, Love and Vitamins on Quinton with Marc Johnson and Brian Blade) are the constant life and inventiveness in the line. He finds fabulous ways to use hesitation and silence, and then pounces on a phrase. His compositions are also worth getting to know, like the appealing Sunspot and Ibrahim, both played last night. They are full of life and twists and turns for improvisers to get their heads, hands and hearts round. And here's one sentence I like from his Wikipedia entry to give a bit of context: "[Muthspiel]'s high reputation, even in young years, made him the replacement of Pat Metheny in Gary Burton's band."

Bassist Jasper Hoiby's tune introductions have become a valued art-form in their own right. His years in London have left him with a mischievously arch brand of self-deprecation matched with that sing-songy Danish intonation to the end of sentences. Last night he was explaining that the tune Behind Bars was titled thus because the main aspiration of a musician while playing, or travelling, is to get to the bar, a repeated pattern which can also be imprisoning. Having said that, the ever-present life, charisma and musicianship in his playing are the real reason for hearing him, and all those were in place last night. Drummer Josh Blackmore, particularly in that tune of Hoiby's, but elsewhere too, is incredibly adept at providing punctuation and structure and shape and reference points in a musical structure.

What stays in the mind this morning is the effortlessly endlessly imaginative trading of ideas and fragments of melody in I Hear A Rhapsody. This was one of those quiet, unshowy, intensely musical, memorable gigs.

So, here's hoping times two: first that  it's not long before Wolfgang Muthspiel is back in London, and that Gwilym Simcock's recovery will be both rapid and complete.

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