|The Impossible Gentlemen|
The Impossible Gentlemen.
(Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford-on-Avon, 24 January. Review by Jon Turney)
A shuffle of brushes, softly-picked chords on guitar, an insistent six-note bass figure: all cushioning a gorgeous melody line from the piano. It sounds exactly like the Impossible Gentlemen, but the opening number is brand new. And so it goes for two full sets. The Anglo-American quartet have two CD's worth of superb music recorded, but Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker have been composing again, and they have a big helping of new work to share .
This second night of their tour, following a couple of days working over the book with drummer Adam Nussbaum and bassist Steve Rodby, offers the excitement of discovery. The new pieces delight the band as well as the audience. There is a sense of things falling into place, but not always quite where the players expect.
What we do expect from this contemporary supergroup - never mind the large volume of new music - is immaculate performance and impassioned playing. The band bristles with virtuosity, leavened with easy humour and the sense they have always projected of being genuinely pleased to be in each other's company on stage. There are plenty of headlong flurries of notes, but enough variety to balance them out - just when you feel leaving more space would let some air into the music, there is a well-judged change of pace. The brighter, brasher, tunes contrast with the wryly Gothic moodiness of Dark Time, the gentle regrets of It Could Have Been a Simple Goodbye.
It's a beautifully integrated foursome, with Steve Rodby a fine successor to founder member Steve Swallow on bass. He takes few solos but contributes a matchless deep groove. This time out Simcock has two electric keyboards as well as grand piano, and plays some terrific locked hands improvisations on acoustic and electric keys simultaneously. Their rockier leanings are reinforced by Nussbaum's commanding drumming and Walker's guitar, but even when all four go full-tilt there is thoughtfulness in the detail, if you can keep up.
Some of us wouldn't have minded hearing a few of the old pieces from their now extensive book, but there clearly isn't much room for them on this tour. We did get a the raunchy Sure Would Baby, Nussbaum's tune from the first CD, for an encore, though, with Walker delivering a final, tremulous solo that reached the pitch of impassioned restraint that is something of a trade mark- a fine coda to a majestic evening.
In the notes to Internationally Recognised Aliens, their second release - recorded with Swallow but with producer Rodby beginning to size up the bass chair - Walker said he is interested in "blurring the lines between Jazz, Rock, Pop and Classical music in a way that creates a new, organic whole from these tried and tested forms". Here he has the band to do it.
The Impossible Gentlemen are on tour in Britain and Europe until March, and return for the Sligo Jazz Project in July.
LINK: Mike Walker previews the 2015 Tour - with tour dates