Neon: Here To There (2008)
Institutional education is undeniably a very good thing, despite running the risk of turning out too many players with a "cook book" approach to improvisation. Still, it limits the number of emergent artists transcending such limitations, and developing individual voices as players and writers. Scottish pianist Gwilym Simcock has, since coming to jazz late in his teens, grown at a near exponential rate through associations with Bill Bruford, Tim Garland and the chamber jazz trio, Acoustic Triangle. His debut as a leader, Perception (Basho, 2007), cemented his growing reputation as one the UK jazz scene's most exciting artists to emerge in recent years. Neon is a new collective featuring Simcock alongside saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and vibraphonist Jim Hart, another newcomer whose work on Here To There suggests he's one to keep an eye on.
Sulzmann has been an integral part of the British jazz aristocracy alongside John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler and John Parricelli, despite his previous The Jigsaw (Basho, 2004) being a transatlantic affair featuring an all-American rhythm section. He contributes the lion's share of the material here, but Simcock and Hart also get to exercise their compositional chops, contributing two tracks and one, respectively, on this bright and approachable set of eight originals.
The piano/vibes combo sometimes brings to mind the duo that started it allChick Corea and Gary Burtonand aspects of Simcock's two-handed technique clearly come from Corea. Equally, the trio references Tim Garland's Storms/Nocturnes Trio, although Sulzmann is a player distinct from Garland, with a soprano tone redolent of John Surman and a lighter tenor sound that works especially well with Simcock's playful touch. Hart may lack the maturity and breadth of Storms/Nocturnes' Joe Lockeyetbut his experience as an orchestral percussionist dovetails nicely with Simcock, who also spent his early years in the classical sphere.
While irregular meters and more detailed compositions could overburden Here To There with superfluous complexity, it's to the trio's credit that its deft approach to the knottiest writing remains unfailingly accessible. Sulzmann's buoyant "Chu Chu" is an ear-grabbing opener, while the stops and starts of Hart's "Deviation" lead to an early high point. Sulzmann's range-encompassing tenor solo is bolstered by Simcock and Hart, who stay out of each other's way through Hart's ethereal, layered harmonies working hand-in-glove with Simock's more propulsive accompaniment.
Harmonically, Simcock's waltz-time "Spring Step" recalls Ralph Towner's recent writing for Oregon, especially with Sulzmann's soaring soprano. But the timbre of Hart's vibesand a solo that winds its way through Simcock's change-heavy and vivacious accompaniment with easelends this and the entire album a sound all its own. Sulzmann's "Sweets" features overdubbed flute and French horn, for a more expansive closer that hints at a direction, perhaps, to explore more fully with Neon's next disc.
Meanwhile, Here To There is an affirming debut for Neon's individual strengths, while creating a whole that bodes well for what will hopefully be an ongoing trio and not a one-off project.
Track Listing: Chu Chu; Deviation; Round The Round It All; Here To There; Spring Step; Exciting Eyes; Say No; Sweets.
Personnel: Stan Sulzmann: tenor sax, soprano sax, flutes (8); Jim Hart: vibraphone, marimba; Gwilym Simock: grand piano, French horn (8).