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Music for the Millennium is saxophonist/composer Ralph Simon’s second release for the Postcards label which in case you haven’t heard was an admirable early to mid 90’s jazz label featuring the creme de la creme of the jazz world. Thankfully, Arkadia Records has acquired the Postcards catalogue resulting in a venerable crop of reissues featuring the original artwork, and liners. Here Ralph Simon and “Magic Club” pursue an aggressive conceptual approach that articulates free-jazz, ethereal sonic soundscapes combined with ethnocentric percussion along with tracks featuring Elizabeth Panzer’s expertise on the Harp.
As a soprano saxophonist, Ralph Simon gets quite a bit of mileage out of briefly stated yet imperturbable phrasing while possessing near flawless intonation. On his composition titled, “The Ballad Quartet will Now Play”, Simon goes head to head with famed pianist Paul Bley who also shares some of the synth chores on this recording. Here, Simon executes affable yet fragile passages over swirling motifs and free-jazz style drumming from fellow Postcards recording artist, Bruce Ditmas (see Nov’99 AAJ reviews). On this piece, Bley utilizes choral-vocal midi patches to round out the background tonalities; however, these sounds become a bit too prominent in the mix toward the finale, yet ...only a minor beef. Simon’s multi-part “Suite First Take” features the great trombonist and “Postcards” charter member Julian Priester along with the estimable bassist Gary Peacock and others as Simon directs the band through dialogues that may suggest hybrid world – free jazz stylizations complimented by weaving, multi-tonal and temporal passages. Keith Jarrett’s “Windsong” is a duet featuring Simon and bassist Gary Peacock as Simon’s lyrically rich and earnest phrasing seems to emanate from within the soul as if here were in a meditative or spiritual trance. A soft interpretation of Miles Davis’ classic “Blue and Green” closes out this interesting set as Simon bridges the gap between mainstream/free jazz along with otherworldly themes and disparate modal developments.
Music for the Millennium is befitting as we count down the days to Y2K - Simon’s slightly futuristic vision works well, while exhibiting a unique stylistic approach which may in fact become more commonplace as music of this ilk progresses into the 21st Century. * * * 1/2
Ralph Simon; Soprano Saxophone, Breath-Controlled Synthesizers: Paul Bley; Piano & Synthesizer: Gary Peacock; Bass: Julian Priester; Trombone: Bruce Ditmas; Drums & synthesizers: Alan Pasqua; Piano (track 11): Jeff Berman; Vibes: Tom Boyer; Percussion & Synthesized Percussion: Elizabeth Panzer; Harp: Michael DiSibio; Trumpet (coda of track 11)
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.