Bath’s Guildhall is a great place to hear acoustic music, the Georgian grandeur comes with a huge vaulting space and the room does all the work necessary on the sound. Gwilym Simcock’s solo piano set, staying quite close to material he’s recorded in that format and the duo of Jason Yarde on saxophones and Andrew McCormack that followed him made for an absorbing couple of hours of music. Gwilym’s credentials as virtuoso and pyrotechnician at the piano are well established now, so its possible to be a bit blase about the fact that at times it sounded like there were more than two hands playing. ‘These are the Good days’ launched the set with a flurry of notes, the rippling left hand figures overlaid with dazzling right runs and chords left hanging as if from that other pair of hands. As the set progressed a blend of classical flavoured blizzards of notes blended with with blues and gospel emerged, the latter often supplied by the left hand or percussive two handed rhythmic workouts. It was a joyful, tumultous hour. The less frenetic Plain Song and a now party piece reworking of My One and Only Love as an encore served as a reminder of how much harmonic subtlety and inventiveness there is in his playing and Northern Smiles gave free rein to the folky lyrical side. Always dazzling and exhilarating, we needed a quick break. The multiphonic squawk with which Jason Yarde launched the second set, announced something a bit different. The piano contributed a ripple of arpeggios building a startling orchestral like sound before it all dissolved into a delightful melody, Yarde’s ‘Thankyou for today’. There were plenty more dramatic switches. That, combined with the almost vocalised cries and swooping lines from the sax with a few burning post bop like workouts, the electric interplay and perfectly balanced and blended sound of the duo and some powerful and lyrical writing combined to give this set a real punch you in the stomach emotional force. The device of almost static harmony or driving riffs were used as effective platforms for improvisation, ‘Walking on the Tyner Side’ included a stroll around the room for Jason Yarde. Andrew McCormack’s Antibes was a great moment with a lyrical melody over rich shifting harmony evoking a passionate response from both.
This was a great piece of programming I thought; overlap stylistically but real contrasts. It demanded concentration that was richly rewarded. A good start to my weekend of Festival sampling