Manhattan Egos

Manhattan Egos

by Sonny Simmons
     
 
Chris Strachwitz, the founder and producer of Arhoolie Records is well known for issuing blues, Cajun, Tex-Mex, Tejano, zydeco, Mexican folk, country, folk, and world musics of every kind. His musical appetite is restless and his vision relentless. He is not, however, a known fan of out jazz. These two dates featuring the great, underappreciated sax of Sonny Simmons

Overview

Chris Strachwitz, the founder and producer of Arhoolie Records is well known for issuing blues, Cajun, Tex-Mex, Tejano, zydeco, Mexican folk, country, folk, and world musics of every kind. His musical appetite is restless and his vision relentless. He is not, however, a known fan of out jazz. These two dates featuring the great, underappreciated sax of Sonny Simmons are evidence to the contrary. Manhattan Egos features two sessions from February 1969 and a live date from October of 1970. The studio session was the original LP issue, and the live date, as raw as it is, is additional, previously unreleased material. The music on Simmons' two sets is deeply indebted to John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, but then almost everyone breaking new ground in jazz at the time -- with the exception of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor -- owed it too. The Simmons band on the first five tracks is comprised of totally unknown musicians, with the possible exception of Barbara Donald, who played in the California free scene awhile before hooking up with Simmons, eventually marrying him and bearing him two children. The rest, Juma, Paul Smith, and "Voodoo Bember," who makes a conga appearance, were not players who had gigged with anyone before Simmons. It doesn't matter though, because Simmons and Donald -- whose style is equal parts Don Ayler, Clifford Brown, and Maynard Ferguson -- create a such a dominant frontline there is little else for the rhythm section to do but find a way to create rhythm and harmony from the interplay of the horns. On the title track, while Juma bows his bass aleatorically to create a harmonic wall of mode and timbre, Donald and Simmons trade lines almost instinctually, overlapping each other with ribbons of such mellifluous intensity it is actually possible to hear them singing to one another through the horns. The harmonic bridge created by Juma is an elastic one; Simmons is able to stretch both modes and intervals on a scalar level while engaging in a kind of chromatic exchange of pitches with Donald. Smith is keeping up, but barely, trying to continually double and triple time the band to make up for what he doesn't know, but the cracks show, making the date seem that much more organic. Listen to his interval crossovers in "Coltrane in Paradise," amid the long, slowly drawn out morphing of the improvisation as it changes meter three times in less than a minute, and you'll hear the evidence. The live session from late '70 is a different matter altogether because the band is stellar. Michael White, with his encyclopedic knowledge of counterpoint is a perfect foil for Simmons, who is primarily as player concerned with the development of thematic material based on harmonic exchange. On "Beings of Light," the frontline resembles something from the Jackie McLean/Tina Brooks band in the first six measures. When Simmons' alto moves into the solo, Kenny Jenkins' bass and Eddie Marshall's drumming follow him right to the overtonal edge and push him over. Simmons' playing here is less lyrical but far more confident and fiery. He reaches deep into the middle and lower registers of the horn for arpeggios that are slurred, bent, and angular rather than gliding or scalar. He sounds like a leader because he has a band that can take any of his ideas and extend them seemingly infinitely. When White solos, we can hear the entire history of the 20th century in his playing, from old-timey fiddle tunes to serialism and bebop. He constructs a contrapuntal system that moves against itself with drones and pitch shifting fluidity. When the two lay against each other, the dialogue is rooted to nothing but rhythm, there are no boundaries holding either to the melody, though it comes through anyway. By the time they reach the end of the set with "The Beauty of Ibis," it is as if a band had been formed, rehearsed and solidified in the course of the concert. If this is a finale there are no more beginnings. Things kick off with Simmons' solo moving ever outward from there. Each member of this quartet has the ability to take his desires to the limits of jazz expression with the confidence that everyone else covers his back. Simmons' solo is guttural, singing and centered on the overtonal possibilities inherent in atonal improvisation as it relates to mode and interval. White and Marshall play counterpoint to one another, slipping through the same patches at twice the time and trading eights on the dime. Jenkins refuses to anchor anything, he pushes the envelope far past the role of the bassist and into orbit forming a launching pad for everyone else's ideas and his own solo is as furious as fire on old wood. The piece ends with a lilting melodic modal exploration of D minor, and whispers to a close confusing everyone in the audience. No matter. They were present to history in the making. Thank God Chris Strachwitz had his tape recorder on.

Product Details

Release Date:
06/27/2000
Label:
Arhoolie Records
UPC:
0096297048320
catalogNumber:
483
Rank:
154064

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