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Edward Simon: Sorrows & Triumphs

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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Following in the footsteps of the critically acclaimed eponymous debut record (Red Records) and subsequent sophomore outing Océanos (Criss Cross Records), in 2007, Edward Simon has now once more gathered together the power quartet Afinada, featuring Brian Blade on drums, David Binney on sax and bassist Scott Colley. With the addition of the Imani Winds chamber quintet and the striking presence of guests Gretchen Parlato on vocals and guitarist Adam Rogers Sorrows & Triumphs proves one of the most intricate of Simon's works to date. Not only does the Venezuelan-born pianist demonstrate his vast talents as a composer and instrumentalist, but he puts his competences as an arranger on full display as well.

The dense instrumentation and arrangement of the opening "Incessant Desires" exposes the latter straight from the start. After a short introduction of the choppy main melody on vocals and brass in unison, the ensemble intensifies the dreamy soundscape by incessantly adding more harmonic layers in an orchestral fashion. All the while, motifs of the melody are smoothly handed through the instruments. The volume of the ensemble declines for a subtle guitar solo, giving the quartet some intimacy and space for improvisation. Slowly but surely the backing quintet works its way back to the front and grows wilder in synchronicity with gripping leads by Binney.

Not all compositions on the record are as packed in arrangement as the opening title. The general mood lightens up in contrast to the opener—"Uninvited Thoughts" proving this point exactly. As opposed to its precursor, this song is composed around a more danceable rhythmic feel and finds oriental scales dominating the main melodies. The flutes take over the melody in the beginning but soon retreat, once again giving the core rhythm section more room for spontaneity. Here and there, they reappear for short ornamental flashes, filling in the details of an already colorful painting. Only towards the end does the mood intensify. Percussionists Rogerio Boccato and Luisito Quintero are very prominent at this point and push the entire ensemble to its utmost.

Things quiet down on "Equanimity," where a more settled and pensive atmosphere is established, mostly due to Parlato's soothing voice. Everyone switches into a lower gear and patiently waits for his or her turn, truly listening to and for one another. The general soundscape of this recording feels like a parable of a very beautiful and fragile landscape.

"Triangle" follows down the same rhythm-concentrated path as "Uninvited Thoughts." Harmonically it stays more one-dimensional and finds the musicians concentrating on establishing one certain groove during the entire 10 minutes. The listener still hasn't quite figured out if confronted with a 10/4 or 7/4 when Parlato follows up the instrumental with a mystifying yet mellow "chant."

While the record succeeds at accomplishing most of its goals, its ambition is most rewarded when the arrangement is at its tightest and most minimal. "Triumphs" is that perfect composition, which unifies all the elements in a most coherent way. The tiny orchestral intricacies are perfectly mingled into and spread across the core group while Parlato vocally ties the instrumental together, to form a song. The organic pairing of a danceable rhythm with more advanced melodic progressions is topped off by synthesizer leads, for a moment exploring more experimental spheres while remaining highly approachable and forward.

"Rebirth" and "Beauty of Space" end the record on a very fitting and positive note—the titles' semantics being self-explanatory while simultaneously the most revealing of Simon's as well as Parlato's studies and exercises in Buddhism, which strongly influenced the creation of Sorrows and Triumphs .

The album is certainly strong throughout but strongest and most captivating when slightly restrained to more sparse arranging. On Sorrows & Triumphs Edward Simon has found a way of making complex harmonic arrangements and compositions easily digestible so that one is able to savor the hour long voyage like a good bottle of wine—the after taste remains pleasurable and memorable for long after.

Track Listing: Incessant Desires; Uninvited Thoughts; Equanimity; Triangle; Chant; Venezuela Unida; Triumphs; Rebirth.

Personnel: Edward Simon: piano, keyboards; David Binney: alto saxophone; Scott Colley: bass; Brian Blade: drums; Gretchen Parlato: vocals; Adam Rogers: guitars; Rogerio Boccato: percussion (tracks 3, 7); Luis Quintero: percussion (tracks 2, 4, 6); Imani WInds-Valerie Coleman: flute; Toyin Spellman-Diaz: oboe; Monica Ellis: bassoon; Mark Dover: clarinet; Jeff Scott: French horn.

Title: Sorrows & Triumphs | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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