REVIEW: Gwilym Simcock Trio plus Printmakers with Norma Winstone in the 606 Club 30 Years at Lots Road Festival

Printmakers with Norma Winstone at the 606 Club
Photo credit: David Forman

Gwilym Simcock Trio and Printmakers
(606 Club 30 Years at Lots Road Festival, 23 May 2018. Review by Brian Blain)

A tremendous feat for saxist/flautist Steve Rubie, and his cheery band of assistants, to have kept the 606 Club, a classic down-the-stairs venue loaded with atmosphere, alive in Lots Road for the last 30  years. And so a celebration fortnight was called for, and with artists from Claire Martin to Jamie Cullum, who feel a strong bond with the venue, such a party was had in the past two weeks.

I was lucky to get down on the second Wednesday, when the Gwilym Simcock Trio and Norma Winstone and the Printmakers, demonstrated a part of the incredible depth and quality of the pool of musicians who operate in London, many of whom are well known far beyond our Brexit-obsessed shores

Simcock's "image" may well be more neo-classical, considered performance – remember his BBC Prom with orchestra three or four years ago? – but this time, with electric bass virtuoso Laurence Cottle and master jazz and rock sessioneer Ian Thomas, who have worked together on innumerable occasions here, he was opening the evening with his Jaco Pastorius set, probably a surprise to many in the absolutely jam-packed room. First up, Liberty City, from Jaco's Big Band Word of Mouth album, brass stabs transformed into bass/drum percussion patterns.

After the original shock waves the crowd seemed to adjust its expectation and it was obvious we were in for something special. After Three Views of a Secret, a lovely waltz and one of many Pastorius tunes (have you heard Kurt Elling's version, on his latest album? Try to catch it), we were into an incredibly fast jazz samba with Thomas's orthodox left hand grip driving the trio, allowing Laurence to weave his busy basslines with Gwilym's piano patterns, all the while on his feet, grinning with sheer delight: absolutely glorious. The set wound down with another classic, A Remark You Made, one of the most affecting ballads in the history of the music and a poignant reminder of what a loss the death of this troubled genius was in 1987 at the age of 35.

The second set of the evening, The Printmakers with Mark Lockheart (saxophones), John Parricelli (gtr), Nikki Iles (piano) Steve Watts (bass), Dave Hamblett (drums), and maybe the most important voice, along with Cleo Laine, from the '60s onwards, Norma Winstone came on to present another kind of strength and lyricism. After a light opening bossa feel giving Mark and John a chance to limber fingers, and the rhythm section to settle into a loose kind of groove, everyone delved into one of those abstract, rummaging-around sort of intros, which once seemed so daring but whose main function now is to raise tension in the audience while the they wonder what's going to happen next.

Relief soon came and the music eased into another Latin feel, O, a tune by John Taylor. This gave Parricelli a chance to stretch out with beautiful sound and long flowing lines before moving into a 6/8 passage in which Norma and Mark moved around together in perfect sync. Next, one which I always think of as "Norma's Tune" which is actually The Glide by Ralph Towner, a delightful quirky theme which was followed by Joni Mitchell's Two Grey Rooms, another fine example of Winstone's fine ear for material. And then, a contrast; after so much alternative voice material, an actual standard, a real beauty, The Night We Called It A Day. Not only did the song bring out the best in the singer's voice, rich and quite powerful, but the relative calm propelled Nikki Iles into the spotlight with characteristically elegant and thoughtful lines.

After another Towner number, Norma came over all Country with Steve Swallow's sly City Of Dallas; quite wonderful and, after The Night We Called it A Day, a masterstroke. Finally, new-ish boy Dave Hamblett got his chance to whack his drums on the encore, Kenny Wheeler's Foxy Trot; so everyone could go home happy.

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