IN Crail’s main street, a giant French horn is taking shape, impeccably sculpted in sand, while beside it the real if somewhat more manageably sized article is being sounded with spirit by the Bells Up Brass Quintet. It can only be the opening weekend of the East Neuk Festival, Saturday’s opening concert of which, in the converted church that is Crail Community Hall, saw the award-winning jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock and his trio present an eloquent if generally mellow-vibed set.
East Neuk Festival: Gwilym Simcock Trio / Budapest Café Orchestra - Crail Community Hall
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Simcock was playing with two long-standing collaborators, double-bassist Yuri Goloubev, whose intricate deliberations often acted as a sort of Greek chorus to the piano narrative, and the similarly responsive drumming of Asaf Sirkis. Still digesting “magnificent fish and chips”, they eased themselves in gently with Goloubev’s stately Little Requiem, shifting into more mainstream territory with Dave Brubeck’s Your Own Sweet Way and an amiably strolling version of If I Should Lose You.
Simcock’s own compositions tended to be melodically appealing – his Just to See You, for instance, and Summer Carol, brightly spelled out before some exuberant exchanges across the trio. In contrast, another Simcock tune, Antics was a lean and stripped-down echo of ribald street songs, chased by skittering cymbals, while an Allan Holdsworth number, Fred, proved a purposeful affair of expansive chording and lyrically cascading piano, ringing out over pummelling drums.
As nattily be-hatted as befits any strolling eastern-European gypsy band, the Budapest Café Orchestra hail from Harrogate, which didn’t prevent them from giving a high-spirit and joyfully received performance on Sunday. Led by Christian Garrick on violin, with Eddie Hession on accordion, double-bassist Kelly Cantlon and guitarist Adrian Zolotuhin, the quartet may lack the fire of some of the great gypsy bands, and their exchanges can be on the stagey side, but they are also musically accomplished and highly entertaining.
There were flamboyant romps through gypsy swing, Greek and Macedonian dances, Garrick’s violin singing sweetly in the plaintive Waltz Lacrimoso, and some Russian fireworks on swirling violin and accordion as well as Zolotuhin’s droll exposition on his long-necked lutes.
Further interludes ranged from a clever accordion-led distillation of a Grieg piano concerto to tongue-in-cheek variations on the Onedin Line theme, while their idiosyncratic arrangements of tunes they’ve gleaned on their extensive Highland tours steered the song air Fear a’ Bhàta, for instance, into some interestingly non-Gaelic ports-of-call.
Gwilym Simcock Trio seen on 27 June; Budapest Café Orchestra seen on 28 June