CD Review: Simon Jermyn
Dublin bassist Simon Jermyn’s new recording on the Barcelona label Fresh Sounds has been gestating for a while. Written over two years in a variety of global locations and recorded in Brooklyn in January 2007, the eleven compositions on Trot a Mouse display a rich and original breadth of musical and non-musical influence and suggest a considerable measure of patience and care in their creation. It also helps that these pieces, nine of which are composed solely by Jermyn, are performed by an excellent international line-up, including an experienced front line of American saxmen Chris Speed and Loren Stillman, and the first-call Irish drummer Sean Carpio. Together, the band interpret this noteworthy material with confidence and improvisational flair.
Jermyn likes to couch song-like melodies in subdued, sometimes gritty textures. His hypnotic bass lines, which Carpio complements with subtlety and sympathy, provide a solid setting for Speed and Stillman. At times, as in ‘Narly’, the competing reeds get a little harried and unfocused, but more typically they knit some lovely interwoven passages, as in the lyrical ‘Otabur’. The group’s overall sound is consistent and of a piece with the writing; in particular, the hollow, earthy tones of Joachim Badenhorst’s bass clarinet nicely ground the floating lines of the saxophones.
Iceland has been one stop on Jermyn’s musical odyssey, and I’d like to think that the stark, glacial ‘Middle Place’ was composed in Reykjavík (or with Reykjavík in mind), so suggestive are its soundscapes of the spare beauty of that city. Throughout this recording, similar haunting, ambient passages, which rise naturally from Jermyn’s bass and baritone guitar patterns, alternate with more rhythmically-driven pieces. Both urgent and contemplative, ‘Kaboose’ offers excellent extended solos from the leads. ‘Silven Cathedral’ is a dense, suspenseful song with a heady blend of three saxophones. And the spiky, energetic title track, which closes the album, features a satisfying exchange of ideas between Stillman and Speed.
In his travels, Jermyn has sought support from some of the most progressive musicians in jazz. Speed’s presence on the CD is particularly inspiring. He is a veteran of New York’s downtown scene, with extensive links to European music and a deep discography that shows how skillfully he has integrated diverse influences. Jermyn has also studied privately with Drew Gress and Skuli Sverrisson, among the most adventurous and open of contemporary bassists, and their influence is evident in this album’s willingness to explore non-standard sound patterns and the inventive mingling of the through-composed and the improvised. With such sound models and guides, Jermyn has found a fruitful context for his own musical growth, which Trot a Mouse amply suggests is progressing very well.
Published on 1 November 2008
Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.