Considering it was the opening night of the London Jazz Festival, there was certainly a degree of irony in Gwilym Simcock’s choice to begin his set with a song entitled ‘A Typical Affair’. For the launch of his much anticipated debut album, Perception, the dexterous pianist gathered together a talented group to play a set full of pop-laced foot tapers and poignant ballads.
Simcock may be an artist of the here and now, but Charlie Haden’s Quartet West was able to transport you back to a world of uncompromising cool, where Bogart style detectives spent their time chain smoking and cracking down on the debauched illegalities of LA’s sinister underworld.
Inspired by the mood of 1940s film noir, the band utilised contrasting shadows and tones, both musically and visually. By shifting from the jollity of ‘Childs Play’, a melodious calypso that wouldn’t have been out of place at the most sun-drenched Californian beach party, to ‘Song for Ruth’, a lament haunting enough for even the most deadly femme fatal, Quartet West demonstrated a dramatic range that was completely attuned to its initial cinematic impetus.
Grammy award winning tenorman Ernie Watts was a passionate and diverse player, adopting a muscular approach throughout a blistering version of Charlie Parker’s bebop standard ‘Passport’. In contrast, there was an air of nostalgic romanticism about his tender solos on ‘Hello My Lovely’.
A highlight of the gig saw Haden revisit his early Hillcrest Club days with Ornette Coleman. The incredible version of ‘Lonely Woman’ (The Shape of Jazz to Come, 1959) saw pianist Alan Broadbent’s playing open up into a much freer, discordant style. Haden worked with drummer Rodney Green to create polyrhythmic textures and set harmonic counterpoints to Watts’ vigorous, almost Ayleresque, explorations.
If it’s true what they say, and in Hollywood you’re only as good as your last movie, then Charlie Haden’s got a blockbuster on his hands. I look forward to the sequel.