I split from Astral early to get over to Cinquieme Salle for British pianist Gwilym Simcock, and was greeted by a sign notifying me that due to flight delays, the show would start one hour later than planned. I used the time to get caffeinated and fed, and then took my seat directly overlooking the keyboard. A charming, funny Simcock came out and immediately addressed the audience, apologizing for his delay and introducing the first tune, “These Are The Good Days,” by saying, “Even after a day like this, being a musician is the best way to spend one’s life. After 11 hours of travel, it’s a privilege to get to play one’s instrument.” A rhythmically active left-hand ostinato grounded various suspended chords. Simcock shifted key centres with ease and fluidity, and concluded the piece with strummed chords and internal piano percussion. His lengthy, sometimes tangential explanations of his songs offered truly fascinating context into his life and his music – I would have interpreted his rendition of “On Broadway” in a completely different manner than he described it. If need be, Simcock could pursue a second career as a stand-up comic. His brilliant pan-tonal sensibility – lines that extend outward almost like a harmonic series – can be chalked up to his early love for Russian classical composers. Simcock’s meditation on the middle movement of the Grieg Piano Concerto was breathtaking.
From there, I headed out to the lot on Clark and Ste-Catherine, now home to two stages. Saxophonist Becky Noble was performing music from her recently released album with her sextet, with Mike Bjella taking Chet Doxas’ place. I know Becky’s music really well, having studied with her at McGill, subbed in her rehearsals, and performing with her in Banff eight years ago. She sounded even better than her recent set at L’Astral. Unfortunately, Marie-Fatima Rudolf’s piano was far too low in the mix until three minutes before the end of the set, and the pastoral beauty of Noble’s tunes had to compete with the blaring blues stage across the street. Like her mentors the Jensen sisters and Maria Schneider, there’s a lot of pretty and subtle details in Becky’s music that got lost on the outdoor stage. On the other side of the parking lot, Toronto vocalist Maylee Todd took over at 10 pm. She’s our new indie-soul “it” girl, and the vast majority of her set didn’t grab me at all. I wonder how much of that was due to sound issues – it felt like the right speaker column only kicked in ten minutes into her set, and moments in tunes that should have properly smacked me in the face came off limp and without dynamic. I’d like to see her in a smaller club to get a better sense of what she does and how she sounds.