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Every time a new Sonny Simmons record is released, reviewers encourage listeners to wake up to this shadowy figure. Simmons has always been a guy hovering behind the glory. In the '60s he seemed a footnote to Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, and listeners bought Ayler on ESP before Simmons. His rediscovery in the late '80s was again a back page story to Ornette Coleman's return.
Well, Simmons is back again.
The Swedish label Jazzaway has produced three new sessions, the first of which is The Traveller. With music composed by conductor Vidar Johansen and a string quartet in tow, Simmons hasn't sounded better in his seventy-plus years!
Neither the strings nor the jazz quartet dominate this recording. Johansen integrates things nicely. The luscious three-minute introduction by piano/bass/drums plus rising strings queues Simmons to step into "Sunset, the sexiest composition on the recording. Simmons eschews the brash for the beautiful. He can charm you with just a few notes.
The strings function well, painting sweetness, but they are also well adapted here for a bit of the outward bound. Jon Klette's "Brainstorm frees the time signatures and allows for some exploration. Simmons' internal organization keeps things tied down and palatable.
Highlights here include "Armada, with its almost film score feel, and "Duet, which finds Simmons in his elementplaying off the the bass notes of Mats Eilertsen. Simmons' voice on saxophone (and English horn) is one that should not be overlooked. As long as he keeps recording, someone will probably be there continuing to remind us to listen.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.