Sonny Simmons: Manhattan Ego

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It is easy to forget the humanity of jazz as we the listener, collector, critic examine the music of creativity. With our digital age, re-mastering and access to most of the first hundred years of jazz, we move effortlessly backwards and forwards through time tasting Jelly Roll, James Carter, and George Gershwin. Discovery of Armstrong’s Hot Fives is as easy as a trip to the record store or through the internet.

Besides the obvious ‘big names’ – Miles, Coltrane, Gillespie, and Armstrong, there have been key players that drove the continual revolution in sound. Sonny Simmons is one such hero, very much alive and recording today. Some say his choice to return to California, after making his New York debut with Charles Mingus, Elvin Jones, and Eric Dolphy in the 1960s, caused his popularity to suffer. His New York recordings for the creative ESP label paralleled the work of Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, while digesting the freedom John Coltrane was experimenting with. Unlike Ornette Coleman, who didn’t return to California, Simmons’ story is one of loss and redemption. Upon his return he seemed to disappear from the jazz spotlight. Rock music dominated the airwaves and Simmons was not heard from until his 1994 Qwest album Ancient Ritual. His 1990’s comeback sparked an interest in his career and Simmons recorded a second session for Qwest America Jungle, and two dates for the creative label CIMP, Judgement Day and Transcendance.

Manhattan Egos is a reissue of a 1969 session long out-of-print and valued by jazz aficionados. Simmons, like Ornette’s piano-less bands, works a quartet, trumpeter, and wife Barbara Donald plays the Don Cherry role while Simmons works an Alto saxophone and English horn which sounds very much like Dewey Redman’s musette. Like Coleman and John Coltrane, Simmons bands were pushing the envelope of freedom. The energy, pulsing from thirty-one years ago, is exhilarating. Like recent work of Ken Vandermark, Simmons was propelling a creative sound beyond its safe boundaries. Included also are 35 minutes of an unreleased live date Simmons recorded in 1970 with violinist Michael White. Again Ornette Coleman’s name and music reappear, and although unlike Ornette on violin, Michael White is an adept musician and perfect foil for Simmons’ attack. Like the more recent ‘re-discovery’ of saxophonist Joe McPhee, Simmons has a rich and powerful discography to explore. No better place to start than 1969, fast forward to 1994, then back to 1966.

Track List:Coltrane In Paradise; The Prober; Manhattan Egos; Seven Dances Of Salome; Visions; Beings Of Light; Purple Rays; Divine Magnet; The Beauty Of Ibis.

Personnel: Sonny Simmons

Record Label: Arhoolie Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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