The combination of a hot summer’s night in July and ‘modern jazz’ did not augur well for the visit of the Geoff Simkins Quartet. It didn’t need a rocket scientist to work out that the attendance would be lower than usual and it was – the lowest of the season. But it was, to my taste, the most enjoyable and inspiring night of the season.
Geoff Simkins has put together a quartet that is, in his words, ‘an unusual mixture of musicians’ but one that nevertheless creates delightful jazz, in a style that might best be described as ‘chamber jazz’. The formula is not too complicated (I understood it!) with ten long numbers in a little over two hours’ music and plenty of solo space for all the musicians. To make it special, which it certainly was, the musicians needed to be very responsive to each other and able to develop their solos with confident improvisation. In some ways improvisation is the key to Geoff’s music: as a jazz teacher of national renown he runs regular improvisation workshops and, another clue, he frequently refers to his musicians as ‘these magnificent improvisers’.
The musicians who made the formula work so well at CJC were: the delightful Nikki Iles on piano, whose playing was subtle and elegant as ever but also had more swing and drive than I’d heard from her before; Simon Woolf on bass was commanding at all tempos and very attentive when accompanying, but it was his solos that most interested me, with the subtle shifts in tone from number to number; Tristan Maillot, deputising on drums for the magnificent Martin France, did so with considerable success, playing with more confidence and subtlety than I’d ever heard from him; and Geoff himself, who played with great calmness and assurance and produced a lovely sound – his playing is patient and unhurried, and the content is so rich that certainly I was never willing him to hurry.
The programme was nicely varied, with only one original composition, Geoff’s ‘Don’t Ask’, based on the chord structure of ‘How About You?’ Get it? The standards ranged from How Deep Is The Ocean to the Bill Evans waltz Very Early, in which Nikki was heavily featured; from a bebop classic, Little Willie Leaps – generally attributed to Miles Davis although Geoff expressed his doubts - to the beautiful ballad My One And Only Love; from the up tempo Cherokee to the leisurely and passionate bossa, Estate; and from Denny Zeitlin’s excellent ballad Quiet Now to a Charlie Parker blues whose title I missed.
The excellent parts, the musicians and the compositions, amounted to definitely my favourite gig of the season. A few of the club regulars even told me that they’d just heard the best music at CJC ever. Who knows? What is certain is that it will not be very long before these fine musicians return, individually and together, to play for us at CJC.