Gwilym Simcock Good Days at Schloss Elmau Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A fluid, sometimes fragile album from the British pianist.

Kathryn Shackleton 2011

Brit superstar Gwilym Simcock may have been a late starter in the recording studio, but he’s making up for it now with a steady stream of albums as leader. His debut, Perception, showcased his trio plus guests and with Good Days at Schloss Elmau the respected ACT label adds Simcock to its roster of international piano soloists.

A cross between the Potala Palace and a swish ski lodge, the imposing Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps draws out Gwilym’s coolly elegant writing and improvising. The whole album is fluid, with Gwilym’s deft finger work sounding like a bubbling mountain stream. Mezzotint is a whirlpool of notes swirling around a melody line that moves from hand to hand and – along with most pieces on the album – it modulates and mood-shifts before your ears.

Like Keith Jarrett, Gwilym started playing as a toddler, becoming a successful young classical pianist before he discovered jazz, and his classical background is tattooed onto all of the pieces on this album. Township melodies pop up from time to time, though, and jazz hallmarks like syncopation and blue notes are never far away.

Wake Up Call takes a straightforward theme and goes way off-piste through shattered scales and broken arpeggios, while Can We Still Be Friends? is a fragile beauty that gets bolder as it gets jazzier. (I swear that the ghost of Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love? is hiding in it.)

Gripper is such a dense piece that Gwilym sounds as though he has cloned himself to play a duet, his selves leading and following in turn, while in These Are the Good Days he makes the piano masquerade as harp and drum.

This is not music to hum at the first listen. The pieces need to be absorbed slowly. Although Simcock proves himself once again to be world-class, some may find that his solo piano lacks warmth and miss the interplay with other musicians.

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