Geoff Simpkins’ exquisitely shaped melodic lines unfurl over a relaxed, unforced vamp from the rhythm section and gradually the shape of How Deep is the Ocean’s melody emerges to start the set at Dempsey’s – my imagination or did everyone lean forward a bit ? This was a spell binding couple of hours from the band led by Geoff with Nikki Iles on piano, Martin France on drums and Simon Woolf on bass. These are all great players who have individually found and developed distinctive voices that complement each other beautifully. Reaching for the metaphors, they always sing and never shout at you even when they are burning it up on Cherokee at some preposterous tempo. Much of this comes from Geoff’s sound and phrasing. Always warm with a melancholic edge, the alto spins and weaves long melodic lines. The reference points of Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz are explict with tunes by both in the set (Thingin and Lennies’ Pennies). Geoff’s own Don’t Ask has similar seemingly endless, fluent be-boppy lines in the melody. Some of the most affecting moments came on the simple statement and then development of Kenny Wheeler’s melody Kind Folk and on the ballad Quiet Now, the title of the latter seeming to sum it up; no-one overplayed and the phrases seemed to hang in the air. Niki Iles’ touch and choice of harmony were perfect accompaniment with the same painterly development of solos, building a picture in sound for us without ( grabbing another metaphor) spelling it all out in capital letters. Alongside the delicacy and artistry, there was plenty of grit and energy. Cherokee began with an un-accompanied flurry of arpeggios and chromaticisms from the alto. When the tune arrived it was greeted with an appreciative chuckle by the audience and the band dug in at the blistering tempo, dazzling solos all round a launch pad for an intense drum solo. They certainly wove a spell over me. A visit to Dempsey’s, a great space in which to play and listen, wouldn’t be complete without adding another name to my mental roll of honor for unsung heroes who organise, promote and sustain jazz clubs like this. Dempsey’s angels are Alistair McMurchie and his partner, booking two nights of jazz throughout the year and with a great programme. Its hard to believe that there’ll be many gigs to top this one although I’ve no doubt there’ll be louder ones.
Geoff Simpkins Quartet, Dempsey’s Cardiff, Wednesday 23rd November