Radiohead’s Kid A Reimagined: Rick Simpson at The Vortex

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Radiohead has been borrowed from and interpreted by jazz artists extensively – take the piano covers by Brad Mehldau or Yaron Herman, or the Noordpool Orchestra’s compilation of grandiose big band arrangements. You might think the band’s discography is already well established as a source of standards for the jazz musician. 

But when the Rick Simpson Quintet introduced their reimagining of Kid A at the Vortex Jazz Club in London, 2 February, it was much more personal. The London-based pianist confessed his love for Radiohead, and Kid A in particular. Released in 2000, three years after OK Computer, the album is considered a landmark in the band’s discography. It was their first move away from a conventional rock-band approach towards more electronics, as well as drawing on orchestral and jazz influences.

With the album approaching its 20th anniversary, the performance was to be a celebration of its impact. It comprised a session listening to Kid A “in the dark” before a live rendition by the Simpson quintet.  

The listening session began after some minor technical difficulties involving the club’s internet connection. On a screen above the stage, a YouTube projection showed the Kid A “blips” – in other words, short clips that were originally used to promote the album on MTV before its release. Here, they formed a visual backdrop. This was a nice touch, but with the video quality and the smoothness of YouTube’s looping feature leaving a lot to be desired, the films weren’t an entirely necessary feature. Nevertheless, the films do contribute to the eerie, surreal and sometimes distorted mood of Kid A

Following a short interval, the Simpson quintet launched into their rendition of Kid A. This was a dedicated interpretation: rather than picking out odd tracks, impressively the quintet reinvented the album in its entirety. 

From Simpson’s unaccompanied piano solo in Everything in Its Right Place – not dissimilar to some of Brad Mehldau’s treatments of Radiohead to a thundering solo introduction to Idioteque in which drummer Will Glaser lost one of his sticks, the group struck a balance between the chaotic and more tranquil moods of Kid A, while nailing the seamless transitions which emphasise the album as a whole. 

The National Anthem, which originally featured a horn section inspired by Charles Mingus, is particularly well suited to a jazz group. The quintet emulated this excellently with free improvisations and wailing arguments between the tenor and baritone saxophone.   

But in How to Disappear Completely, a slower and more mournful song, this earlier barrage was juxtaposed by a beautifully melancholic melody played on tenor saxophone by Tori Freestone. 

It’s easy for jazz Radiohead covers to become lost voices in a crowd, but this was not the case with those from the Simpson quintet. It was clear that a lot of thought had gone into the performance, and the commitment to offer a heartfelt and meaningful interpretation of Kid A really stood them apart from other artists.