Review: Rick Simpson ‘Klämmer’ Septet at the Spice of Life (LJF)

Left to Right: Dave Hamblett, Tom Farmer, George Crowley, Mike Chillingworth
Rapph Wyld. Spice of Life, November 2013


> Rick Simpson ‘Klämmer’ Septet
(Spice of Life, 24th November 2013 -EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Sarah Chaplin)


What better way to spend the closing evening of the 21st London Jazz Festival than to be immersed in some spirited yet understated music from one of London’s own rising stars? Pianist and composer Rick Simpson’s reputation has understandably grown over the last few years, but he’s also extended his writing for his original quartet to encompass a larger line-up, which last night included vibes (Ralph Wyld) and a burning three-man horn section (saxophonists George Crowley and Mike Chillingworth and trumpeter Rory Simmons). The capable and imaginative Tom Farmer was in fine form on bass, complemented by the marvellous Dave Hamblett on drums. This performance brought to mind just how creative a composer can be when writing with the strengths and the foibles of particular musicians in mind.

There is a lot going on in this music: frequent shifts in time signature, tempo and feel, tricky rhythmic figures, highly textured percussive punctuation, unnerving close, Monkish harmonies, as well as beautiful lyrical elements, sometimes laid down as a vamped backdrop, sometimes draped over the top while the horns intone an insistent bell-like line. On several occasions, we were all lulled at times into a false sense of security (in a good way) before someone fired a salvo and the whole thing headed off in a different and unexpected direction.

Simpson is a skilful manipulator of the effect of an overall piece, moving for example from an opening statement played in total unison, then diverging with some complex counter movement, creating space for a complete departure into a free solo over a grounded structure. Things rarely – if ever - settle into a comfortable groove, and tension is sustained by stark and querulous swells or bickering horns, and moderated by self-assured slow-moving harmonic sequence on vibes or sustained pedal point on piano.

There were some truly delicious moments – Crowley’s achingly evocative solo on the piece about a power cut in a lonely cottage, the succulent sound of two tenors battling it out on Bethlehem Bingo, and Simpson’s own hammeringly good fugue-like solo on Pins, which sounded as if he had at least two pairs of hands.

There’s an endearingly self-deprecating humour in Simpson's musical vocabulary, and he uses it to good effect. I’m not talking about his choice of tune titles, which whilst memorable, often bear false witness to his sound. It’s more the way Simpson plays with our associations, and allows something emphatically droll to emerge. At the start of Semi-Wogan (the title track from his album on SaySo Records ), he was citing cheesy 1970s sit-com music. And best of all were the cunning references to Mingus in the closing tune of the night, Säd Acton, where we were invited to savour the irony of a mock calypso, and revel in his parting gesture, a drunken and debauched outro of lazy out-of-time horn riffs.

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