Radiohead’s groundbreaking album, Kid A, was released in October 2000. It is hard to believe that 20 years have passed since this, the band’s 4th release, first entered our consciousness, raising the eyebrows of many critics and listeners alike. Rightly considered a classic of its time (or of any time), it seems an odd musical choice for anyone to attempt ‘reinterpreting’. But pianist/arranger Rick Simpson has done just that. Whirlwind recording artist Toni Freestone joins James Allsop to form the twin-saxophone frontline, and Simpson is joined in the rhythm section by Dave Whitford on bass and Will Glaser on drums.
Rick Simpson’s Kid A project was created to mark the 20th anniversary of the original album’s release, as part of a series of sell-out shows curated by Simpson at London’s Vortex club featuring non-jazz records rearranged with an improvisational focus. The original show was such a success, drawing in listeners from beyond the club’s regular audience, that Simpson re-assembled the band in the studio and recorded the entire album in a single afternoon session “I think the time pressure contributed to the performances. It’s really punchy and to the point, but a lot happens – it captures the energy so well”.
Although jazz/improvised reinterpretations of pop/rock classics are fairly commonplace these days, there aren’t, at least to my knowledge, that many examples of entire albums being recorded. One terrific example I can think of is Dylan Howe’s Subterranean, New Designs on Bowie’s Berlin, a remarkable album that not only captures the true essence of the original artist, Bowie, but successfully takes the music into fascinating and exploratory new territory. As for Radiohead’s music, thoughts immediately turn to Brad Mehldau. The great pianist’s style and musical character does perhaps make Radiohead pieces a natural choice for him, the deep, yearning, edgy melancholia shining through on his recordings.
Simpson’s energy on this recording is infectious. The arrangements are terrific, with the two frontline saxes bringing a welcome edge to the session. ‘Everything in the right place’ sets the scene, with the horns bringing verve and life to the proceedings. The hushed piano of ‘Kid A’ builds towards a dramatic finale of controlled chaos. One of the most surprising elements to this album is how well it grooves on numerous pieces. ‘The National Anthem’ is a prime example of how well this works here. The beauty of ‘How to disappear completely’ lies in its simplicity, shimmering piano and banks of violins capturing the imagination. The cleansing spirituality of ‘Treefingers’ leads into the petulantly effervescent ‘Optimistic’. The delicate nature of ‘In Limbo’ cuts a dashing sideways glance at irreverence, whilst ‘Idioteque’ reaches exciting heights thanks to some incredible baritone sax soloing. The esoteric ‘Morning Bell’ is followed by the closing piece, the beautifully sweeping, swaying, contemplative ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’.
For me, this album has a feel to it that grows and grows with repeated listening. As a jazz listener, you certainly wouldn’t need to be familiar with its source material. In fact, it’s an album that stands up especially well on its own. For Radiohead devotees, it’s not as dark and affecting as Mehldau’s interpretations, yet it is punchy and less introspective. Whichever angle you take it from, it’s a rewarding, enjoyable album to make friends with.