Great nights: Sketches of Miles
Last night's concert at the Village Underground will go into the books as one of the most memorable shows we've seen yet.
The City of London Sinfonia, "the Orchestra that promises to surprise and move you" continued their #CLoSer series with Sketches of Miles, a night dedicated to the collaboration between Miles Davis and Gil Evans, programmed and arranged by pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock. The night had the dark, industrial, bar-in-the-back feel of a jazz club, and the place was totally packed.
Simcock's arrangement of J.S. Bach's "Wachet auf" started off the tone of the concert, and it opened our ears to what felt like a mix between Bach's familiar tune, plus some Stravinsky-esque counterpoint and more than a few nods to Miles Davis' notable sound. The jazz-inspired take on Western classical music opened the door for what followed, which was an orchestrally-inspired take on some of the most influential jazz music of the 1950s; the programme took from Davis/Evans albums like Miles Ahead, Sketches from Spain, and their Porgy and Bess arrangements. Simcock led from the piano, playing with a clean touch that made us think of Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould, with a deep love for juicy, warm chords and questionable extra notes, edging at times towards Thelonius Monk. He had a satisfying way of ending his arrangements, wrapped up in with a damn bow indeed.
A highlight of the night was jazz vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, who joined CLS for excerpts from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. His "Summertime" was sparse on words, almost like a mix between childlike and minimalist. He sang the show's hit, plus the beloved "Bess, you is my woman now" with a sound that was a cross between sandpaper and velvet. When he came back for "Where's my Bess?", he was totally heartbreaking; he segued into a duet with Simcock, full of scat and yodelling and beat boxing. Simcock told us that Watkiss was a no-brainer choice as a representative of Miles Davis' trumpet sound, and his singing was a lesson in what it means to have a range of colour.
As a bonus, CLS had apparently gotten a late-notice memo that saxophonist Tim Garland would be stopping by the concert, and they decided to bring him onto the stage. It was a total treat, a picture of chamber music plus jazz combo, and Garland was in love with everyone's solos. We would have been fooled if they'd told us there was a rehearsal before their performance; so, when Simcock assured us that it wasn't the case, the respect level shot up even higher.
The music was stellar, and the vibe was so great that even a momentary power outage mid-"Summertime" didn't dampen the night one bit. Sketches of Miles was our first hearing of the CLS, and though it's hard to say what we expected, expectations don't matter when the experience holds us rapt and happy.
We'll be going back as often as we can to hear the City of London Sinfonia, and if you're in the area, take a look at their next RE:Imagine event, Paris Reflected, on April 20th, 7:30pm at Southwark Cathedral. Grab your tickets before they're gone.