Stan Sulzmann had the air of a school master about him standing in front of Jim Hart and Gwilym Simcock. But these fresh faced pupils wouldn’t have thought of blowing a spit-ball or dozing off in class. Like a favourite teacher who never needs to raise his voice, Sulzmann’s calm wisdom has earned him respect and definitely brought the best out in these young players.
Singularly each musician has forged a successful career with their own distinctive sound, but collectively as Neon they have managed to strike enough of a balance to prevent this trio becoming a showcase of individual talent alone. Instead there was a great deal of complimentary interplay between the three as they spurred each other on throughout the set.
Although Sulzmann played an integral part of driving the band forward with a range of expressive solos, it was Simcock and Hart who were the most conversational players, setting and reacting to each other’s complex melodic counterpoints like old friends answering each other’s sentences.
The lack of drums could have been problematic but Simcock and Hart thrived off the space and attacked their instruments with a percussive swagger. Simcock plucked and muted his piano strings creating some playful textures, while Hart received the loudest cheers of the evening after some furious cascading mallet work on his vibraphone.
Playing songs from the new album Here to There (Basho Records) the compositional skills of all three members of Neon were apparent. But Hart’s ‘Deviation’ in particular stood out, taking on a sauntering, almost sleazy feel to it, giving Sulzmann just the right backdrop for a seductive breathy approach on tenor.
Playing with such young musicians could have been a challenge for Sulzmann, but on this occasion his years in the business and experienced demeanour were equally matched by Simcock and Hart, who showed maturity beyond their years.