Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sonny Simmons - Reincarnation (Arhoolie Records, 2015)

This excellent archival release was recorded live in 1991, and features a very special family oriented group of alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons, his wife, trumpet player Barbard Donald, and their son Zarak Simmons on drums. Rounding out the group is Court Crawford on bass and Travis Shook on piano. “American Jungle Theme” opens the album with driving drums that are so raw and explosive that they carry the saxophone along for the ride. Zarak seem to be so thrilled to be playing in this setting that he is bringing everything he has, which makes this track very exciting. Donald’s trumpet comes in for a punchy section as the piano comps on the edge and the drums continue to thunder. The rhythm section is given brief solo areas before everyone retunes to the main theme to close this thrilling tune. There is an Ornette Coleman like feel to the setting of “Reincarnation” with Simmons’ freebopping alto saxophone developing a nice lengthy statement goaded and encouraged by his son’s drumming. He makes an assured proclamation here that he had lost none of the powers, making everybody stand up and look, and soon to be rewarded by getting the opportunity to make two albums for a Warner Brothers subsidiary. After thirty years of scuffling and missed chances, Sonny Simmons had truly arrived, with great communicative skill. He pushes forward fervently before backing off and allowing a great exchange of brass and saxophone to conclude the performance. The standard ballad “Body and Soul” slows the pace down considerably, with Simmons showing a surprising tenderness and allowing the piano to frame his playing in a thoughtful fashion. This is a very subtle and restrained performance, while Simmons reaches for the truth, the rhythm team is quiet even using brushes. “Ancient Ritual” has a mighty brass and drums fanfare sounding very tight before Sonny Simmons breaks formation for a solo that that is strong of spirit and pure music. Zarak Simmons is aware of this notion and while his percussion is ferocious, it breathes in accordance to the needs of the music, and they are just killing it with non-stop saxophone and drums improvisation, reaching the “are you kidding me?”state. Sonny drops out and Barbara Donald’s trumpet wades in slowly, testing waters where that former tempest lay. Zarak Simmons has to throttle the drums back a bit for fear of swallowing the trumpet whole. The piano, bass and drums team take over for their section, but Zarak is solo tightly wound that his muscularity overpowers the scene and leads the full group to com back in and finish. The final preface is “Over the Rainbow” which is taken with Barbara Donald as the sole horn in the group. She plays the well known melody with simple accompaniment and achieves a golden glow throughout her improvised section. There is a sense of nostalgia and perhaps that is due to programming this album in such a way we are left with a fitting tribute to Barbara Donald who passed away in 2013. Sonny Simmons is one of the few survivors of the New Thing/free jazz revolution of the 1960’s. His lengthy career has seen him recording with Elvin Jones, Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner in the past to putting out releases in the present including project with Indian musicians and an eight disc boxed set! This is a very fine album, which fits right in and is another feather in his cap. Reincarnation - amazon.com

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