Simon Purcell ‘Red Circle’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

simon-purcellPianist Simon Purcell has followed an interesting trajectory as a musician in that a large part of his career has been spent as an academic lecturing in music for almost three decades and he is currently head of jazz at a music conservatory in London. A parallel career as a performer has thus been sporadic, but has notably included duties as leader of 1980s group Jazz Train in which singer Cleveland Watkiss plied his trade. For this debut on the Whirlwind label, nothing is rushed and there is an underlying sense of the leader’s maturity in the ensemble playing which bodes well. The quintet is an impressive one with Gene Calderazzo featuring on drums, Steve Watts on acoustic bass and a horn section comprising Julian Siegel on tenor and soprano saxophones and Chris Batchelor on trumpet while vocalist Lianne Carroll guests on a wonderfully reflective vocal number, ‘Ithaca’, with reflective piano from Purcell. Indeed, in general there is something of live feel to the recording owing to the absence of isolation between musicians in the studio. Influences are wide-ranging, but in terms of the piano include British musicians John Taylor and Gordon Beck while the ensemble work has clearly been influenced by the likes of Art Blakey and Miles Davis respectively during their expansive and explorative 1960s recordings. On the extended eleven and a half-minute piece, ‘Answers for Job’, Purcell in fact seems to have taken a leaf out of the Herbie Hancock acoustic piano period and this at once a delicate and impressionistic number with gorgeously melodic ensemble performances, and in the intro piano soloing of some distinction. The Jazz Messengers are conjured up on the opening to ‘Spirit Level’ and there is a lovely piano vamp from the leader and tenor soloing from Siegel that recalls Wayne Shorter in his mid-1960s prime. Elsewhere mid-1960s period Miles is evoked on the adventurous ‘Pandora’ with a fine trumpet solo from Batchelor while piano remains out of proceedings here. Overall, a fine debut for Simon Purcell on this most enterprising of London jazz labels and the leader would do well to retain this formation and undertake some live performances in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse