The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings; The Traveller

Jeff Stockton By

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Sonny Simmons
The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings

Clifford Allen's informative and revealing interview with Sonny Simmons, included with ESP's two-disc reissue of Simmons' first efforts as a leader (Staying on the Watch and Music From the Spheres) clears up much of what happened to the master alto saxophonist between the time these sessions were cut in 1966 and his re-emergence in the '90s. Simmons' inability to conform to the demands of the marketplace, along with family pressures and a pressing need to put food on the table, drove him away from jazz music, stunting what otherwise might have been a glorious career.

Always a volatile personality, Simmons' cut his music in the late '60s with a finely honed edge. On "Distant Voice he pushes his alto into English horn territory (which Simmons would later regularly employ). Then-wife Barbara Donald on trumpet is key to the band's forceful sound, and disc one marks the debut of pianist John Hicks, who brings "City of David to a rousing finish. Disc two is slightly less focused than the first, but the addition of Bert Wilson's tenor adds richness to "Resolutions, and "Zarak's Symphony is built around a charming melody, which, once stated, Simmons rubs away with a furious solo.

Sonny Simmons
The Traveller

Forty years after he cut his first sessions, 25 years after he virtually disappeared from the scene and fifteen years after he made his triumphant comeback with Ancient Ritual, Simmons is a true jazz survivor, one of the "last buffalo[es], as he says. One thing Simmons never lost was his orneriness, and most of his recent music has him sparring with Michael Marcus' second horn in the Cosmosamatics. On The Traveller, however Simmons is backed by a string quartet and bolstered by an empathetic rhythm section, playing the music of Norwegian composer Vidar Johansen with a melodious light heart you wouldn't expect. The music is delightful from start to finish (only "Brainstorm veers from the harmonious mood). The strings seemingly offer validation and legitimacy, and Simmons finally gets the respect he's been due. With a gorgeous piano introduction and swelling violins, Simmons comes in for a perfectly calibrated noirish solo on the aptly titled "Sunset, closing this wonderful effort with a song that's sure to stay with you.

Tracks and Personnel:

The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings

Tracks: CD1: Metamorphosis; A Distant Voice; City Of David; Interplanetary Travelers; interviews; CD2: Resolutions; Zarak's Symphony; Balladia; Dolphy's Days; interviews.

Personnel: CD1: Sonny Simmons: alto saxophone; Barbara Donald: trumpet; John Hicks: piano; Teddy Smith: bass; Marvin Patillo: drums; CD2: Sonny Simmons: alto saxophone; Barbara Donald: trumpet; Bert Wilson: tenor saxophone; Michael Cohen: piano; Juney Booth: bass; James Zitro: drums.

The Traveller

Tracks: Humphrey; Armada; Spheres; Duet; Brainstorm; Sunset.

Personnel: Sonny Simmons: alto sax, English horn; Anders Aarum: piano; Mats Eilersten: double bass; Ole-Thomas Kolberg: drums; Harald Aadland, Eileen Siegel: violin; Bendik Foss; viola; Kari Ravnan: cello; Vidar Johansen: flute, conductor.


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