Edward Simon, a native of Venezuela, has made a name for himself over decades in America as a jazz improviser, composer-arranger and band leader, with his profile heightening in recent years as he has explored the commonalities jazz can have with the folkloric sounds of Latin America. JazzTimes summed up his impact this way: “Simon is less talked about than many other important jazz pianists from the Caribbean and South America, but he may be the most complete creative artist among them.” Based in the San Francisco Bay Area as a member of the all-star SFJAZZ Collective, he has been a Guggenheim Fellow along with being awarded multiple composition grants as part of the Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works initiative. Simon, a Yamaha artist, has recorded 15 albums as a leader or co-leader; his latest is Sorrows and Triumphs, released via Sunnyside Records in April 2018. This follows Simon’s 2016 album Latin American Songbook, with the four-and-a-half-star DownBeat review praising its “grand and sophisticated” sound. Latin American Songbook also won Simon an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album. The New York Times has praised Simon’s “light, warm touch” as a pianist, while Jazz Journal International singled out “his deep emotional statements” as a composer and improviser.
Sorrows and Triumphs showcases the long-running virtuoso quartet Afinidad, featuring Simon alongside alto saxophonist David Binney, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. The album’s color-rich arrangements also include several special guests: vocalist Gretchen Parlato, guitarist Adam Rogers and the chamber quintet Imani Winds, plus percussionists Rogerio Boccato and Luis Quintero. The album’s material blends two bodies of work commissioned from Simon by Chamber Music of America’s New Jazz Works: the suites “Sorrows and Triumphs” and “House of Numbers,” their individual movements re-sequenced to form a holistic listening experience that brims with a lyricism both intimate and majestic. About this music, influenced by Simon’s Buddhist practice, he says: “I wanted these compositions to bring joy to the listener, to be direct and accessible, with singable melodies.”
Simon first performed the “Sorrows and Triumphs” suite with Afinidad in 2009 at Walton Performing Arts Center in Arkansas and later at New York’s Jazz Standard, with performances broadcast on National Public Radio’s Jazz Set. Afinidad and Imani Winds unveiled the “House of Numbers” suite in 2016 at California’s University of the Pacific. Simon Rowe, executive director of Roots, Jazz & American Music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, attended the premiere of “House of Numbers,” saying afterward that the blend of the five Imani Winds with Simon’s jazz quartet was “mesmerizing,” as the “writing juxtaposed the lyrical and often dense textures of the quintet with the ever-changing, percolating rhythmic drive of Afinidad.”