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Sonny Simmons arrived as a performer over forty years ago. He's not the last man to tell you he hasn't had his due, following bad times on the old "young man with a horn" stereotype. As with Mark Twain, "reports of his death were... exaggerated," but they did Simmons harm. The good news of his being back was preceded by grim times away.
Simmons' past partner, flautist Prince Lasha, should be listed as co-composer of "Music Matador," a dancing Spanish theme both men recorded with Eric Dolphy a year before Dolphy's tragic death. Simmons remains a master of the alto saxophone, sounding rather like a tenor saxophonist (say Sonny Rollins) an octave higher. The music here is akin to Dolphy and Rollins' fresh inspirations for a better worldbeauty, spiritual elevationin comparison with the daily dirt, greed, and stupidity. The prod of a minimal accompaniment might at odd times have relieved a faint unsettling feeling unaccompanied solo saxophone improvisations can cause, especially at the length to which these here are taken. There's nothing above upper mid-tempo, except rapid-fingered multiple-time runs, but always there's a sweep, as near to swing as a single voice can manage, and singing phrasing.
The ambiance is ideal, as if Simmons was in a comfortable chair in nice surroundings, meditating on a real but better world with reference to a few flavoured themes (Spanish, Caribbean/Rollins/St. Thomas, another world, church) letting his lyrical imagination rove. He's lively even at slower tempo, yet with a sense of inner peace. How it was meant to be: Sonny Simmons playing saxophone.
"Music Matador" has a repetitive theme, thus unrepresentative when sampling the performance's first half-minute. It would almost have been better if (so to speak) Simmons had started one later. For the rest he's well warmed up, there's no obvious repetitiveness and clichés are eschewed. Lacking quite the range of contrasts some number of listeners can habitually demand, this set demands an investment of patience before the real, satisfying reward.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.