All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

184

Paul Simon: Surprise

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Paul Simon has been exploring and adapting his songwriting to the music of other cultures since the mid- 1980s, but strip away the arrangements from this material and you still have Paul Simon the singer/songwriter. The same can be said about Surprise. Instead of the world music stylings of Graceland (Warner Bros., 1986) or You're the One (Warner Bros., 2000), Simon radically shifts gears here. Collaborating with veteran producer/sonic landscaper Brian Eno, he has produced an entirely contemporary album that bears all the earmarks of his classic songwriting style.

From the distorted guitars and alt-rock drum sound of the opening "How Can You Live in the Northeast?," it's clear that while Simon has always followed his own path, he's also been aware of developments around him—both musical and political. Surprise may be Simon's most overtly political record, raising post-9/11 questions on both the opener and the gospel-informed "Wartime Prayers." But rather than express a sense of outrage, Simon searches for ways to live in an altered global landscape. As he says, "I'm trying to tap into some wisdom. Even a little drop will do. I want to rid my heart of envy and cleanse my soul of rage before I'm through."

Eno's sonic manipulations create an ambience that sounds unlike anything Simon has done before, but there's also a clear progression to this set. "Beautiful" possesses a highlife vibe, while Simon's use of lyrical repetition on "Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean"—despite Eno's buzzsaw-like tone, which acts as a pulse at points during the song's evolution—harkens back to songs like Graceland's "I Know What I Know.."

Singer/songwriters are rarely accomplished instrumentalists, but Simon proves himself to be far more than a mere accompanist on his songs. He's supported by a host of veteran players, including drummer Steve Gadd, a longtime associate, and bassist Pino Palladino. With the exception of a guest spot by Bill Frisell on the optimistic "Everything About It Is a Love Song" and a rhythm track by guitarist Vincent Nguini on the deeply personal closer, "Father and Daughter," Simon plays every guitar part. There may be no virtuosic solos, but he demonstrates an astute ability to conceptualize multiple layers of acoustic and electric guitars. They may seem simple individually, but when combined, they create a rich aural tapestry.

So many artists from Simon's generation have been surviving on nostalgia or recording lackluster albums of jazz standards. A far better solution seems to be to continue testing oneself, keeping eyes and ears open in order to create present-day classics. And Surprise is just that, one of the strongest albums of Simon's long career.

Track Listing: How Can You Live in the Northeast?; Everything About It Is a Love Song; Outrageous; Sure Don't Feel Like Love; Wartime Prayers; Beautiful; I Don't Believe; Another Galaxy; Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean; That's Me; Father and Daughter.

Personnel: Paul Simon: electric, acoustic and nylon string guitars, vocals; Brian Eno: electronics, sonic landscape; Pino Palladino: bass (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10); Steve Gadd: drums (1,2,4-11); Robin DiMaggio: drums (1,3,5,7,10); Gil Goldstein: harmonium (1,7), keyboards (5); Bill Frisell: electric guitar (2); Abraham Laboriel: bass (2,7,11); Alex Al: bass (4); Herbie Hancock: piano (5); Jessy Dixon Singers: choir (5); Leo Abrahams: fretless bass (9); Jamey Haddad: percussion (9); Vince Nguini: acoustic rhythm (11); Adrian Simon: additional vocal (11); Andy Smith: programming.

Title: Surprise | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Warner Bros.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
Extended Analysis
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
Live 1969

Live 1969

Columbia Records
2008

buy
Surprise

Surprise

Warner Bros.
2006

buy

Related Articles

Read New Hope CD/LP/Track Review
New Hope
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 23, 2018
Read The Nobuki Takamen Trio CD/LP/Track Review
The Nobuki Takamen Trio
by Mark Sullivan
Published: September 23, 2018
Read Light Of Love CD/LP/Track Review
Light Of Love
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 23, 2018
Read Heaven Steps To Seven CD/LP/Track Review
Heaven Steps To Seven
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 23, 2018
Read In The Blue Light CD/LP/Track Review
In The Blue Light
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: September 23, 2018
Read Dreams And Other Stories CD/LP/Track Review
Dreams And Other Stories
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: September 22, 2018
Read "Closer To Home" CD/LP/Track Review Closer To Home
by Geannine Reid
Published: June 20, 2018
Read "New Hymn To Freedom" CD/LP/Track Review New Hymn To Freedom
by Gareth Thompson
Published: August 23, 2018
Read "The Pocket Philharmonic Orchestra, Peter Stangel – Beethoven Revisited Symphonies 1-9" CD/LP/Track Review The Pocket Philharmonic Orchestra, Peter Stangel –...
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 24, 2018
Read "Powered by Life" CD/LP/Track Review Powered by Life
by Geno Thackara
Published: May 24, 2018
Read "Hule" CD/LP/Track Review Hule
by Mark Corroto
Published: June 4, 2018
Read "A Year Ago Today" CD/LP/Track Review A Year Ago Today
by Doug Collette
Published: March 18, 2018