Inspired by the works of Charlie Parker, Vincent Van Gogh, Sigurd Rasher, and Eric Dolphy, saxophonist Sonny Simmons recorded Jewels at a California home in 1991.
Simmons' best-known composition, "Music Matador,"? initiates the recording. It was originally featured on an Eric Dolphy recording, and in a recent AAJ interview Simmons affirms that it is his, rather than a co-composition with Prince Lasha, as commonly credited. Other musicians, including Jane Bunnett and Paul Bley, have recorded it since Dolphy did, accompanied at the time, among others, by Lasha and Simmons himself. Denuded of any technical enhancements or musical support, Simmons engages its bouncy melodic lines with aplomb, dexterity, patience, nimbleness, and shiraz-like dryness in his tone...not quite sweet, yet full-bodied and sonically aromatic, while intimating aging fruity delight. He, however, doesn't stray far from its melodic core in his decidedly intelligent and vibrant developmental approach...which subsumes what he does throughout the rest of the recording itself as none of the compositions stray from this methodological pattern. The melodies can be engrossing, memorable, or even catchy, and there are many pits to be mined for further capitalization, exploration, and development.
Most styles of jazz...as well as blues...are present, in varying degrees, and all compositions have their own particular highlights according to their respective characters, well represented by their titles. "Caribbean Nights,"? for example, has a type of sensuality that would lend itself quite well for a video clip featuring the famed Ursula Andress' emergence from the sea in the James Bond film Dr. No. There's a distinctively playful, breezy, and aged romantic nostalgia throughout this interpretation.
If one, however, were to expect a foray into libertine expressiveness in Jewels, with foggy and elusive hints at the compositions' fundamental natures, one would be both wrong and perhaps even miss how he builds his improvisations upon the clear melodic structures of the compositions. In other words, this is jazz unchained...from its so-called free stereotypical cacophonic and intrusive omni-directional thinking...by logical sonic patterns and expressions derived from the work's melodic core. It requires discipline to listen to an altoist improvising alone for more than an hour, nonetheless. The quality of the recording and the performance, however, are fine.