108

Sonny Simmons: Jewels

By

Sign in to view read count
Solo saxophone recordings (and, for that matter, solo recordings in general) offer more than just a glimpse into the process of self-composing, of testing material and approaches to sound as well as getting into the nature of the instrument. Though it lacks the sparring that begets improvisation (for that reason, Derek Bailey prefers to call it "solo playing"), unaccompanied work offers its own kind of spontaneity and thrill. Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, and Joe McPhee have contributed greatly to the development of a solo saxophone lineage, in such a way that their respective bodies of solo work are distinct entities. But the solo setting also offers a unique window into the approach of improvising artists who rarely record this way.

Altoist Sonny Simmons, whose seminal recordings with fellow reedman Prince Lasha in the 1960s displayed a true peanut butter-and-jelly brand of communication, had not been recorded in a solo setting until Jewels. This 1991 set, which predates his recorded return from hiatus by a number of months, offers a unique window into his alto playing, its history, and its soul on five compositions. The set begins with a solo reading of "Music Matador," a tune co-penned with Lasha (though Lasha is not credited here) that was first recorded with Eric Dolphy and Lasha for Conversations in 1963. One of the most unmistakable compositions from that period, it is in some ways difficult to visualize without the flute-alto-bass clarinet front line that characterizes its nuanced Afro-Latin flavor. Simmons' rendition of the piece here strips away some of the rollicking nature of its earlier incarnations, slowing down the tempo and emphasizing how gorgeous and plaintive the thematic material is at its core.

"Cosmic Funk" uses a calypso-inspired rhythmic motif as its primary jumping-off point, balanced by a somewhat pastoral ballad section, and Simmons effortlessly swings between these two thematic poles throughout a nearly twenty-minute exploration of his roots as an ornithologist. Unaccompanied here, it is interesting to note that Simmons seems closer to his bebop roots on this set, with echoes of The Cry! (his first date, with Lasha) and its unique rhythmic foundation, especially on "Cosmic Funk." By the mid- to late-'60s he was co-leading a juggernaut of a band with his then-wife, trumpeter Barbara Donald. The lyricism of this more visceral unit was peppered with the bustle of its Lower East Side environs; the easy swing and bubbly phrasing that characterized his early work was augmented with gritty multiphonics and a more biting tone (especially on tenor). Perhaps it was the relaxed home-recorded atmosphere of this session, but Simmons sounds forty years earlier in his career.

Jewels offers something entirely different from the Cosmosamantics and the work that immediately preceded it, an unfettered view of one of the most distinctive and lyrical alto voices to come out of the post-Bird jazz vanguard. It is a pleasure to hear unaccompanied Simmons—his is a music not of fashion, but of sincerity.

Track Listing: Music Matador; Cosmic Funk; Caribbean Nights; Other Worlds; Reverend Church

Personnel: Sonny Simmons (alto saxophone)

Title: Jewels | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Boxholder Records

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Album Reviews
Multiple Reviews
Album Reviews
Multiple Reviews
Album Reviews
From Far and Wide
Interviews
Album Reviews
Read more articles
Leaving Knowledge, Wisdom And Brilliance / Chasing The Bird?

Leaving Knowledge,...

Improvised Beings
2014

buy
Jazz-Maalika

Jazz-Maalika

SaptakJazz
2014

buy
 

Beyond The Planets

Milestone Records
2013

buy
 

Near The Oasis

Milestone Records
2011

buy
 

Symphony Of The...

Milestone Records
2011

buy

Related Articles

Read First Nature Album Reviews
First Nature
By Troy Dostert
July 19, 2019
Read Sacred Kind of Love: The Columbia Recordings Album Reviews
Sacred Kind of Love: The Columbia Recordings
By Jakob Baekgaard
July 19, 2019
Read Perhaps Album Reviews
Perhaps
By Don Phipps
July 19, 2019
Read Terra Incognita Album Reviews
Terra Incognita
By Dan McClenaghan
July 19, 2019
Read New York Trio Album Reviews
New York Trio
By Troy Dostert
July 18, 2019
Read Invincible Nimbus Album Reviews
Invincible Nimbus
By Jerome Wilson
July 18, 2019
Read Syzygy Album Reviews
Syzygy
By Don Phipps
July 18, 2019