If British alto player Geoff Simkins' album was to have a subtitle, it might be "A Short History of the Bop Alto Saxophone Since Charlie Parker." And this should be no surprise, since most of the tunes on the program were composed by musicians who were musically weaned during the Parker era. Don't Ask is a good album with an interesting, challenging play list, a challenge the players meet and master with relative ease. Nonetheless, the ghosts of Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, and Cannonball Adderley and the small groups they led haunt the album (in a nice way) on such tunes as "Sunflower" and Lee Konitz's "Subconscious-Lee." But the alto saxophonist who most frequently comes to mind as one listens to the alto offerings of Simkins is the light, airy, relaxed, almost self-conscious playing of the inestimable Paul Desmond. On the performance of Denny Zeitlin's "Quiet Now," there is a well-constructed interplay between Simkins and the Bill Evans-like piano of Nikki Iles resulting in a peek of what a Bill Evans, rather than a Paul Brubeck, quartet featuring Paul Desmond would have sounded like: even more thoughtful than the Brubeck group. And thoughtful, coupled with relaxing, is the clue to revealing the approach this quartet takes to the music.
Not a newcomer, Simkins has been around since 1977 when he performed with the renowned British group, the Temperance Seven Jazz Band, which presented a combination of jazz and comedy. But he has also shared the stage with Art Farmer, Al Cohn, and Tal Farlow, among others. There are also a couple of albums under his belt with guitar player Dave Cliff for Spotlite Records. Nikki Iles is becoming a top-flight jazz pianist in England and on the Continent. Among other credits, she has recorded with another first-rank performer, vocalist Tina May. Drummer Martin France and double bass player Simon Woolf go well beyond mere time keeping. Woolf's command of the bass is apparent on "Very Early." Don't Ask is the inaugural album for the new British jazz label Symbol and if it is to be the standard for the future product, many more good jazz releases should be forthcoming. This album is recommended.