Sonny Simmons made a number of striking albums in the 60's. Born in 1933, he was already a well-travelled Parkerian and a signaled innovator on the West Coast when he first came to national attention in 1963 with his debut recording "The Cry!" (with the Prince Lasha Quintet, on Contemporary), live appearances in NYC with Sonny Rollins, and sessions with Eric Dolphy (for whom he wrote the standard, "Music Matador") and Coltrane's rhythm section ("Illumination!", on Impulse).
Though not a die-hard avant-gardist (like Ornette Coleman and Jimmy Lyons, other alto sax luminaries from the same generation, he sticks in his own provocative way to the tradition), he was then a leading figure of the Free Jazz scene in NYC with his wife Barbara Donald, cutting legendary records for ESP in 1966, "Staying On The Watch" and "Music From The Spheres". Back in California, he made an acclaimed appearance at the Jazz Symposyum in Berkeley (1969). He became an underground hero with the likes of Bert Wilson, James Zitro, Smiley Winters and producer James Bronson Jr. The period also provided landmark records for Arhoolie ("Manhattan Egos") and Contemporary ("Firebirds", "Rumasuma", "Burning Spirits"), which met international response.
Then - nothing. Sonny Simmons suffered a spectacular eclipse during the 70's and the 80's. With the West Coast no longer providing work, family and personal problems, his career collapsed.
He ended up in the streets. Playing kept him alive, and he managed to maintain working groups throughout most of this "lost periode", producing hours of incredible music (which are still to be released : check out the rare documented traces of this activity, "Backwoods Suite", "Global Jungle" and the solo tour-de-force, "Jewels", to make sure his musical powers remained untouched).
Accordingly, his come-back had to be spectacular, too. He began to build a local reputation again. Word-of-mouth, helping souls and hard work made the rest : by the time he went to Europe (1994), he had an album on Warner, "Ancient Ritual". Actually, the title he had first choosen says it all : Reincarnation. He made a strong impression in festivals (Montreal, Moers, Willisau, Helsinki...), on record ("American Jungle", Warner, "Judgement Day", CIMP), appeared at the Irridium, at the Knitting Factory.
But somehow, he felt he had to bring forth something different. After a period of lesser activity (while living in France, he kept on touring, notably with Oliver Lake and Sunny Murray, but didn't record), he re-emerged in 2000 with richer, brilliant concepts.Read more
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