‘This movie for your ears’ were the words Frank Zappa used to describe his very successful solo album Hot Rats – and they could well be used to describe this album. This recently released CD is Romanian-born Alex’s debut as a bandleader and all six tracks were composed by Alex himself. The quintet is comprised of Alex Simu on clarinets, Franz von Chossy on piano, George Dumitriu on viola and guitar, Jorg Brinkmann on cello and Kristijan Krajncan on drums and cello. It’s something of a pan-European ensemble with members coming from Romania, Slovenia, Germany and Italy. Alex has studied at the Manhattan School of Music and currently lives in the Netherlands.
The tracks are purely instrumental with a total playing time of around fifty-five minutes and the music is on the whole freely improvised and also contains elements of Romanian folk-music. Alex has his Girnata clarinets made in Izmir, Turkey, and a Turkish redolence is certainly present in these tunes. Titles such as ‘Armenian street’ and ‘Echoes of Bucharest’ clearly show that memories of his homeland permeate this music.
The first track ‘Open air concert’ is one of the shorter pieces and begins with quiet acoustic guitar and tribal drums and then the cello, piano and clarinet gradually meld into this, building into a polyphonic sound reminiscent of water flowing and wind blowing. As in most of the other tracks, the volume rises and falls as the music becomes more and less intense. In ‘A thousand lanterns’ and ‘Armenian street’ the clarinet plays a repeated folky refrain intertwined with piano and in ‘The orphan’ it’s played in a breathy way making a sad plaintive sound. The percussion is at times minimal. In ‘The orphan’ it resembles a heartbeat but in ‘Armenian Street’ it’s played on a full drum-kit with plenty of tom toms, while on ‘Slowly dancing for peace’ there’s a very freaky solo near the end that’s reminiscent of Drumbo from the Magic Band. The piano is well to the fore throughout the album and is played very insistently at times. The cello is sometimes played like a double bass and the viola has a decidedly Middle Eastern sound on several tracks including ‘Echoes of Bucharest’. There’s not too much guitar on the album but there’s an electric solo at the beginning of the closing track ‘Echoes of Bucharest’.
The Alex Simu Quintet will be performing as the final event of the Europalia Arts Festival Romania at St James’s Church, Sussex Gardens, London W2 3UD on Friday, 6 December, at 7.45. Tickets are £15-£17.50 in advance plus booking fee. On the basis of what I’ve heard on this album I can really recommend them.