FESTIVAL REVIEW: Mike Walker & Gwilym Simcock at the Manchester Jazz Festival

Gwilym Simcock, Mike Walker
Photo credit: Adrian Pallant

Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock
(Manchester Jazz Festival, 7 August 2015. Review by Adrian Pallant)


The warm, enthusiastic welcome from the clergy/laity of city centre church, St. Ann’s, didn’t go unnoticed during Manchester Jazz Festival’s twentieth year programme which saw lunchtime recitals from Tori Freestone (with Alcyona Mick), Christine Tobin (with Phil Robson and Dave Whitford) and Norma Winstone (with Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier). Although naturally reverberant, this intimate musical setting – with rapt audiences looking on from solid box pews and down from expansive galleries – provided a relaxed chamber music environment in which the artists appeared to thrive.

A much-anticipated set from ‘local lads’ Mike Walker (guitar) and Gwilym Simcock (piano) was a particularly special meeting, with Simcock quipping that, having already played at Ambleside and Hereford, Manchester was the last leg of their “world tour… it’s been emotional!” This musical partnership is sublime – exquisitely crafted improvisations interspersed with amiable conversation and Walker’s typically quick wit, claiming, “We don’t practice any of this stuff, y’know!” However many grains of truth were in that aside, it all added to the charm of their varied musical conversations and pleased, knowing glances.

The set opened with the delicate tracery of a reverently-observed extemporisation around the opening theme of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. Naturally ebbing and flowing, the duo’s subtle interactions here were a delight, with their eventual exuberant exchanges segueing almost unnoticeably into Autumn Leaves before recapitulation. And the many organic perambulations also took in some of the melodic pleasures of their Impossible Gentlemen repertoire, such as breezy Hold Out for the Sun and their 16-bar blues homage to Samuel Barber – Barber’s Blues.

Gwilym Simcock
Photo credit: Adrian Pallant


Frequently, the fine detail produced by both instrumentalists was breath-taking, as Walker gently teased out diaphanous high-end solo lines, then offered sumptuous chordal textures; and similarly, Simcock’s subtle improvisational phrasings were contrasted with razor-sharp dexterity. Apart from the fact that the hour (plus encore) dripped away all-too rapidly, this convivial performance magically created a sense of time suspended, before a contented congregation filed out into the afternoon sun. One of those lucid contemporary jazz duo moments to treasure.

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