Don't Ask is the inaugural album for a new British jazz label, Symbol Records. If the album were to have a subtitle, it might be A Short History of the Bop Alto Saxophone since Charlie Parker. And this is no surprise, since most of the tunes on the program were composed by musicians who were weaned during the Parker era. This is a good album, with an interesting, challenging play list, a challenge the players meet and conquer with relative ease. Bop influence notwithstanding, the alto saxophonist who most frequently comes to mind as one listens to the alto of Geoff Simkins, is the light, airy, relaxed, almost self deprecating style of the inestimable Paul Desmond. On "Denny Zeitlin's "Quiet Now", listen to the well constructed interplay between Simkins and the Bill Evans'-like piano of Nikki Iles resulting in a inkling of what a Bill Evans, rather than a Dave Brubeck, Quartet featuring Paul Desmond might have sounded like - even more introspective than the Brubeck group. And introspective, coupled with relaxing, is the key to appreciating the performing philosophy. There are no barn burners here, no dazzling fingering runs, no screeches, honks and other extraneous noises. The closest to swinging bop is "Little Willie Leaps" where Martin France lets loose with a very Philly Joe Jones like drumming underneath Simkins' alto. This track is one of the highlights of an album filled with good tracks.
Simkins has been around since 1977 when he performed with the renowned British Group, the Temperance Seven Jazz Band, which blended jazz with comedy. But he has also shared the stage with Art Farmer, Al Cohn and Tal Farlow, among others. He has a couple of other albums with guitarist Dave Cliff for the Spotlite label. Nikki Iles is fast becoming one of the premiere jazz pianists in England and on the Continent. Among other credits, she has recorded with another first rank performer, vocalist Tina May. Martin France, whose drum work is key to holding this session together, has been with Kenny Wheeler, Ralph Towner and Lee Konitz. Bobby Wellins, Ruby Braff and Weslia Whitfield are among the artists with whom double bassist Simon Woolf has shared either the stage or recording studio. Woolf's command of the bass becomes apparent as he solos on "Very Early".
There's not a slouch in this group as they individually and collectively create more than an hour's worth of special small group interpretations. This album is recommended.
Tracks:Sunflower; Don't Ask; Quiet Now; Thingin'; Estate; Little Willie Leaps; The Duke; In Your Own Sweet Way; Silence; Very Early; 317 East 32nd Street; Subconscious-Lee
Geoff Simkins - Alto Saxophone; Nikki Iles - Piano; Simon Woolf - Bass; Martin France - Drums
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