Mercury rises for pianist Gwilym Simcock
Simon Adams reviews Gwilym Simcock's Good Days At Schloss Elmau, the jazz nomination for the 2011 Mercury prize. Update: The awards show was on 6 September 2011 and the prize was won by pop singer PJ Harvey.
ACT has established a fine tradition of enabling its new piano stars to record solo albums. It’s now the turn of Gwilym Simcock, who was taken to a cultural retreat in the Bavarian Alps to record this, his second collection after 2007’s expanded trio set Perception and his first for a major label.
All eight compositions are his, and all but one was written just for this recording. All show off his classical background and training.
There is a florid, almost exuberant confidence in the intense syncopation of the opening These Days Are Good Days, which ends with a contemplative passage played inside the piano, and the headlong Wake Up Call, both well balanced by the ruminative Mezzotint and the considered, romantic Can We Still Be Friends?
His use of harmony is sometimes extravagant, as in the chromatic runs on Gripper, but what stands out most throughout is his ability to make his piano sing with confidence and joy.
It’s unfair to suggest influences on his style, but the homage he pays to Keith Jarrett on the playful Northern Smiles – a play on Jarrett’s own Southern Smiles – makes one debt clear. This is a fine album from an increasingly mature pianist, and one that deserves repeated hearings. Good days indeed for the pianist, and for the listener too.
GOOD DAYS AT SCHLOSS ELMAU
These Days Are Good Days; Mezzotint; Gripper; Plain Song; Northern Smiles; Can We Still Be Friends?; Wake Up Call; Elmau Tage (58.33)
Simcock (p). Schloss Elmau, Bavaria, 2 September 2010.
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