When American saxophonist Joshua Redman, British pianist Gwilym Simcock and Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel took the stage in front of a packed Wigmore Hall on Thursday night, they had never played together as a trio, save at a rehearsal the day before the concert. According to an excitable Redman, even that was brief. “I knew it was going to be cool,” he said, describing his delight at being able to work with two musicians he had long admired, “but, after about 10 minutes we didn’t need to rehearse any more. It was more than cool!” As was their set, the final part in the saxophonist’s three concert jazz series at the hall, which had all the freshness and excitement you’d hope for from a first encounter.
Simcock’s ‘Shanty’ provided a gentle start to the proceedings, opening with an icey wash of piano and guitar that made way for Redman’s soprano. The tune’s simple melody launched solos of increasing intensity, with Redman scanning the changes and nodding approvingly, his bottom lip thrust out, as Simcock moved things up a gear. ‘Double Blues’, a Muthspiel composition with a cat-and-mouse unison head, came next, featuring a blistering solo from the guitarist that juxtaposed choppy chordal work with fluid bop lines and thrillingly long holds that floated above Simcock’s walking bass notes, resolving in the nick of time.
A smoky tenor sax introduction became Redman’s ‘High Court Jig’, its reel-like groove drifting towards dissonance before shying away, as Simcock turned the time signature inside out and Muthspiel contributed percussive backings on the muted strings of his guitar. Two standards followed: ‘’Round Midnight’ was brought to life by electronic swells from the guitarist and Redman’s reworking of the melody, which curled upwards towards pitch-perfect altissimo before finishing in the mud of his lower register; while Brubeck’s ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ was prefaced by a piano segue of exquisite beauty – a filigree of intricate lines and glistening harmonies.
The remainder of the set brought further displays of frightening virtuosity, spontaneous risk-taking and masterful control, as the musicians continued to sound one another out, with Redman unleashing funk-tinged riffs and treacherous screes of notes. And in the end it took two encores, a break neck rendition of ‘The Eternal Triangle’, which pushed all three men to the edge, and the tenderness of ‘I Hear a Rhapsody’, to silence the crowd. Were this one-off collaboration to lead to something more regular (it should), it would be fascinating to watch it develop. But if it does, let’s hope it can retain some of the thrilling uncertainty and sense of adventure that made this first outing such a pleasure to watch.
– Thomas Rees