Pizza Express Jazz Club is not what you’d call a spacious venue. Tables and chairs take up a lot of room and the stage area is tight to say the least. So it is a marvel that the Dean Street Club manages to squeeze two grand pianos into the club each year for its annual Steinway Festival of piano duos.
Opening the 2012 edition of the festival was a powerhouse duo who showed just how dazzling the medium of jazz piano duo can be. Both aged 30, Gwilym Simcock (a regular on Culture Capital) and the Paris-based Israeli pianist Yaron Herman (pictured) are two of the leading musicians of their generation.
As pianists they have their similarities. Both have a gift for melody as well as fearsome improvisation skills, and both like to take all manner of tunes and mould them into jazz. But Simcock and Herman are still different enough to avoid a dull duo; Simcock’s playing is innately lyrical while Herman’s approach is more angular.
Together the two men played several long pieces, most of which moved between styles and melodies, from folk and pop songs to classical themes. The variety allowed for a satisfying array of action at the keyboards: build-ups from quiet, spare figures into full-blown riffs; jagged runs interspersed with singing melody. This is a partnership that could bear some time in the studio.
Here are the two pianists in action. Hopefully there will be a video of them performing together at some point…