Delta Saxophone Quartet/Simcock review – a prog rock tribute with punch

Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
Pianist Gwilym Simcock and the all-saxophone quartet Delta rearranged King Crimson compositions into stomping new jazz shapes

Pianist Gwilym Simcock’s partnership with the Delta Saxophone Quartet, the all-sax group who have been balancing jazz and contemporary-classical thinking for 30 years, was launched at the unlikely premises of Stoke City FC’s Britannia Stadium. Fortunately, the club’s reputation for grinding out results by austere methods didn’t cramp the free-flowing imaginations of Simcock and the Delta baritone saxist Chris Caldwell, who met there in 2011.

The two long-time Stoke fans warmed themselves one December night in the Potteries by dreaming up a makeover of the 1970s music of jazz-influenced prog-rockers King Crimson, with the grooves mimicked by the saxophonists’ drum-tight polyphonic phrasing, and Simcock furnishing the arrangements and mercurial improv contrasts from the keyboard. They showcased the striking results at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club this week.

Most of the group’s forthcoming Crimson! album focuses on Simcock’s skilful reimaginings of the original compositions, but the show’s opener was his own A Kind of Red, an elegant confection of lyrical melody, pumping piano chordwork, fluid postbop soloing from soprano saxist Graeme Blevins, and lustrous ensemble writing for all four horns together. A jigging folk theme with a Scottish lilt (a mix of King Crimson’s Vroom Vroom and Marine 475) developed a Frankensteinian stomp powered by Caldwell’s gruff baritone, and The Night Watch opened with vaporous horn lines intertwining and then tightening into exultant choral swoops on harmonies that echoed the early big-band writing of Mike Gibbs. The depth of Simcock’s jazz knowledge and the classical rigour with which he applies it was constantly evident, very affectingly in the Ellingtonian high harmonies that introduced Dinosaur, and thrillingly in the soaring, Jarrett-like piano solo he released from it.

A rock tribute delivered by a drummerless acoustic band is always likely to wind up a little stiffer and more formal than the source material, but the jazz-improv freedoms of the resourceful Deltas, and Simcock’s spontaneous gift for thinking outside any box, nonetheless gave the gig an unexpectedly visceral punch.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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