Reviewed by John Watson
Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton UK
There’s a chemistry among the finest groups that is unique to jazz, an extraordinary telepathy between the players combined with a selfless desire to allow the music to grow organically – to develop depth, strength and intensity.
When a band has been together for a few years, recording, touring, and sharing musical and travelling experiences of exultation, exhaustion, frustration and joy, a powerful relationship can grow which leads not only to more inspired individual playing but also to the development of a greater musical whole.
This special characteristic was clearly in evidence when the marvellous UK/USA group The Impossible Gentlemen returned to the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton on Saturday, as part of their current tour and immediately prior to going into the studios to record their third album.
When the band appeared as part of the Jazz At The Arena series last year it was the first time I had heard them since Steve Rodby – best known for his work with Pat Metheny – had taken over bass duties from the legendary Steve Swallow, joining pianist Gwilym Simcock, guitarist Mike Walker and drummer Adam Nussbaum. That was a splendid performance, but Saturday’s concert was on a higher creative plane altogether, for the band’s music has developed tremendous unity, strength and sheer exuberance.
Opening with Simcock’s flowing tune Hold Out For The Sun, the group soon kicked into overdrive as Speak To Me Of Home grew from soft melodic figures to relentlessly developing intensity, with Walker’s gloriously expressive guitar soloing leading the musical fireworks and Nussbaum’s spectacular percussive insistence creating a performance of great beauty as well as captivating excitement.
The group has developed an engaging line in entertaining on-stage banter, too, with Nussbaum suggesting Fifty Ways To Leave Your Dog as possible tune title, which prompted Walker and Simcock to launch into a contest to see who could come up with the most groan-worthy puns. Walker nearly won with “I love you not, Spot”, but Simcock easily took the prize when the guitarist challenged him to find a rhyme for Doberman. Simcock shot back: “It’s over, man!”
Indeed, the band did offer a splendidly funky, snaking tune entitled Dog Time, with exceptionally fine soloing from Simcock (switching between the piano, organ and electric keyboard) as well as inspired playing from Walker, and with Rodby’s semi-acoustic upright bass providing the perfect undertow to the rocking rhythm – solidly driving, and with all the bassline phrases beautifully shaped.
Propane Jane, beginning in march time and developing into a rip-roaring rocker, was the superb closer for this memorable concert. I can’t wait for the new album.
Categories: Live review