Saturday 18 April 2009

Pete Randall Band featuring Geoff Simkins, Brighton Jazz Club, 17 April 2009

Geoff Simkins from
Walking into the Komedia Studio Bar last night was like walking into The Haig Club in Los Angeles somewhere around 1952: four fresh-faced young men on the bandstand playing cool jazz. Then it would have been the likes of Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan; this band consisted of leader Peter Randall (bass), James Maddren (drums), Freddie Gavita (trumpet and flugelhorn) Lewis Wright (vibes) and a rather less fresh-faced Geoff Simpkins, the Brighton-based alto saxophonist (pictured). They were assembled to play a set inspired by the music of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.

The band played Lennie Tristano & Lee Lonitz tunes tunes such as 317 East 32nd Street, Subconscious-Lee, Lennie's Pennies. Generally built on recognisable changes (Out of Nowhere, What is This Thing Called Love, Pennies from Heaven) but long, complex, linear-sounding heads.

Geoff is perfect for this line-up as he has made developing the Konitz/Marsh approach his life's work. He focuses on the development of melodic ideas, getting inside the chords and and bringing out the really interesting notes. The lines are often quite long, teasing out small melodic ideas, and then off in a different, often unexpected, direction. I take a workshop with Geoff every other Saturday, when he focuses on getting the most out of the students, minimising the amount he plays himself. Geoff's philosophy on soloing has a clear lineage back to the teaching of Lennie Tristano, so it was great to hear this approach in action. The number that stood our for me was his expressive take on the ballad Detour Ahead.

The rhythm section really stood out. There was plenty of rhythmic interest in James Maddren's playing but never lost it's sense of swing. Peter Randall reminded me of Larry Grenadier and Charlie Haden, focusing on the lower end of the bass. Trumpeter Freddie Gravita sounded most at home on his feature spot on Autumn Leaves, which started very freely and went into a strong swing feel. The sound of Lewis Wright on vibes complemented the band sound well - occupying it's own space in terms of the tonal colour and never getting in the way. At the climax of some of his solos his playing was virtuosic - fast, rhythmic and very physical, particularly on John Lewis' Django.

Talking with Pete afterwards, we agreed that a lot of the current interest in Konitz and his ilk is due, at least in part, to Mark Turner, the US tenor player. Mark is clearly a very serious musician (leaving aside legends like Sonny Rollins, he's probably the best tenor play I have ever seen live) and it was interesting hearing the much better known Joshua Redman on Radio 3 last week saying what a big influence he was. It's great hearing this music reinvigorated by young musicians who value the experience and approach brought by master practitioner Geoff Simkins.

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