Gwilym Simcock: Instrumation

Sep 20, 2014
Extra: Kari Nevalainen

"X with a symphony orchestra", where X stands for a musician or musicians who do not standardly perform with a symphony orchestra, has a long tradition in the recent (after WW II) history of non-classic music. Given that the end-result often is an unhappy one - corny, unnatural etc. - mixing with a classical orchestra must be one of the toughest genres in music.

Gwilym Simcock's new Instrumation is miles from being the worst example of this style. The material on the album is devided into two wholes. The first half presents a piece called "Move!" - music that Simcock originally wrote for solo piano (himself) and City of London Sinfonia but for the recording completed with a small ensemble (double bass, drums, guitar) to "enhance the rhythmic aspect of the music". The three movements are connected with elaborated solo interludes.

Simcock's melodically rich and harmonically advanced music that despite the accompaniment of the large orchestra sounds "jazzy", and although often appears as improvised is in fact "through-composed", is sufficiently complex and non-intuitive to be classified as highly competent. Also, the performance both by Simcock himself and his background team deserves nothing but superlatives. Yet, somewhere deep down I couldn't avoid the feeling that whenever the orchestra joins the piano and the rhythm group with a number of instruments the music slightly looses its glamour and intensity, as if the two nonetheless were not meant to be together. The same old problem, but fortunately in a significantly milder form.

The impression could have something to do with sound (mixing) too: Simcock mentions challenges faced in balancing the piano and the orchestra. Instead, the sound of the piano and other instruments of the jazz group are of the high ACT quality, as exemplified by the other composition "Simple Tales", originally a commission for a classical piano trio (violin, cello and piano) but here augmented with bass and drums. The tunes may be more "conventional" but the music is not minor.

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