In the last couple of years Sonny Simmons has gone from hard-to-find to all-over-the-place. Burning Spirits was reissued by Fantasy, his early ESP and Arhoolie albums are available on iTunes, and he's managed to sustain steady output from the Cosmosamatics, the working group he co-leads with Michael Marcus. Simmons is a link in the saxophone chain that originates with Charlie Parker, extends to Ornette and Eric Dolphy, and now joins Marcus to that tradition of excellence. On Reeds & Birds the connection is made explicit as the two musicians (along with guest drummer Clifford Barbaro) tackle Parker's "Cheryl" (twice), "Drifting on a Reed", and "Bird Feathers", their multi-reed mix of alto, tenor, English horn, clarinet, and saxello at once contemporizing the tunes and making the case that the music has always been ahead of its time. The trio takes them just a little bit slower than Bird and Diz did, and swings them just a little bit looser. "Autumn in New York" features a slightly unhinged but oddly affecting Simmons vocal while his buzzing English horn relocates the standard to the Egyptian desert, and Marcus's clarinet on "In a Sentimental Mood", the second part of the medley, is thick like frozen vodka.
Original drummer Jay Rosen is back behind the kit for the 24-minute live version of "Avant-Garde Destruct" that concludes Reeds & Birds and when Marcus brings out his baritone for his gentle "12 Seasons of Love", the first of four tracks recorded live in Amsterdam in 2003 that comprise the back half of Three. After Rosen solos to start "Requiem for Anne Frank", Marcus enters on baritone and delivers a characteristically profound performance. Of all the horns in his repertoire, the baritone may be where Marcus slow-burns brightest.
Consider a Sonny Simmons revival a sign that things are looking up. And for my CD dollar, Michael Marcus is the most expressive and consistently rewarding reedist around. On Three and Reeds & Birds you get both of them in a trio unlike any other.
Personnel: Sonny Simmons (saxophone), Michael Marcus( saxophone), Jay Rosen (drums), Clifford Barbaro (drums on Reeds & Birds only)
Three: Futura; Tonal Magnitudes; Cool Burn; Bring On the Funk; 12 Seasons of Love; Avant-Garde Destruct; 'Round Midnight; Requiem for Anne Frank
Reeds & Birds: Intoxicating Galaxies; Cheryl (take 1); Drifting on a Reed; 49th St. Stomp; Ballad Medley: Autumn in New York/In a Sentimental Mood; Bird Feathers; Cheryl (take 2); Avant-Garde Destruct (live)