In the United Kingdom, 30 year old pianist Gwilym Simcock is a musical voice to be reckoned with, and yet in the United States it appears he is barely known. After listening to even one of his recordings and in some cases perhaps only one of his tracks, one need not read all the superlatives to understand the magnitude of his accomplishments at such a young age. Simply put, Gwilym Simcock isnot just one of the most gifted pianists and imaginative composers on the British scene, but on the world scene. His discs moves easily between classical music, which is his training, and jazz, and he inhabits both worlds so easily that his music has already been compared to some of the great pianists today -- Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett Gonzalo Rubalcaba (Dave Kane, Cadence USA). His abilities are dazzling, his compositions engaging and exciting at times, mellow and subtle at others. According to Simcock, his influences include jazz legends Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and John Taylor and classical composers Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky.
His formal education includes Trinity College of Music (London), Chetham’s School of Music (Manchester) – where he studied classical piano, French horn and composition -- and the Royal Academy of Music (London) where he graduated from the jazz course with first class honours and the coveted 'Principal's Prize' for outstanding achievement.
My first exposure to Simcock was the double album "Blues Vignette (Basho Records 2009), as captivating an introduction to an artist as one can imagine. Over two discs he moves effortlessly between classical and jazz moods, in solos, duos with cello, trios, written music and improvisations, upbeat tempos and moving classical pieces. He opens right away with "Little People", a lovely tune with the fluidity of a Bill Evans or Red Garland. The title tune is a very bluesy number which brings a swinging rhythm to the party, thus displaying on one disc the full range of Simcock's playing. Think of the distance between a swinging Gershwin tune "Nice Work If You Can Get It," and the classicism of his duo for cello and piano. CD2 is equally outstanding.
The first listen to this album was overwhelming. Hearing it clarifies why Simcock has been called the most important new pianist on the British scene. At age 28, his maturity, compositional abilities, arrangements were already the full package.
And yet there is so much more to listen to. As soon I could, I went back into his discography for other examples of his playing and purchased several more discs.
Simcock's first exposure as leader was entitled “Perception” (Basho Records 2007) . It featured a sextet with Stan Sulzmann (saxophones), John Parricelli (guitar), Phil Donkin (bass), Martin France (drums) and Ben Bryant (percussion), and was nominated for Best Album in the BBC Jazz Awards 2008. An auspicious start , it only hinted at the pleasures of his next two recordings as leader, "Blues Vignette" as discussed, and "Good Days At Schloss Elmau."
Good Days at Schloss Elmau (ACT 2011) is a solo concert of original compositions that is just magnificent. He varies widely between upbeat rhythms and ethereal, dreamlike set pieces. His lyricism is unmistakable, his harmonies wonderfully arranged, and the technical quality of the recording pristine. This is exciting, joyful music that will lift any listen's heart, and stands up to the best of Mehldau, Jarrett, and other great solo pianists.
Simcock also has several excellent albums as a sideman. He began recording a few years prior to his first disc as leader, and there are some exeptional examples of his interplay in other settings. He has been a member of Accoutic Triangle, with bassist Malcom Creese and Tim Garland on wind instruments, playing piano and even French horn on "Resonance" (Audio B 2006) and "Catalyst" (Audio B 2008). The trio blends modern and chamber jazz to great effect on some very nice recordings.
More recently, he worked as a sideman to saxophonist Julian Arguelles on Momenta (Basho Records 2009), and with the quartet The Impossible Gentlemen (Basho 2011) with Mike Walker on guitar, Adam Nussbaum on drums, and Steve Swallow on bass. "The Impossible Gentlemen" is by far the most upbeat and propulsive recording of Simcock's career to date, a bit more outside than the other ercordings, and with any luck at all there will be more CDs of this quartet to come.
For an artist so young, Simcock has racked up a staggering array of accomplishments, but these recordings demonstrate that he deserves the accolades being heaped upon him. There can only be more great things to come; in the meantime hopefully listeners in the United States will catch up with this marvelous talent.