CD review

Edward Simon – “25 Years”

Edward Simon – 25 Years
(Ridgeway Records. Review by Rob Adams)

Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon hasn’t achieved anything like the following over here that a musician and composer of his capabilities and breadth of scope deserves. LJN carried a review of his previous album, 2018’s Sorrows and Triumphs (LINK), and his appearances in the UK seem to be relatively few: the estimable John Fordham reviewed him at the Pizza Express for The Guardian in 2002 – LINK and the FT’s Mike Hobart in 2011 (LINK) .

This newly-released, self-curated collection, celebrating his half-century last year and spanning thirteen albums released between 1995 and 2018, might, then, bring Simon to wider attention. It certainly highlights the variety of musical styles which he is at home in, as someone who is classically trained, who has absorbed his native rhythms and song forms and who spent a significant period working in the great alto saxophonist Bobby Watson’s from-the-Bird-and-Blakey-traditions-into-the-now band. He can also play at the freer end of jazz, as his lengthy, live, building-form-out-of-abstraction conversation with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, Pathless Path illustrates.

Like his compatriot, fellow pianist and near-contemporary, Leo Blanco, Simon left Venezuela in his youth to study in the US (in his case at fifteen, with studies in Philadelphia and New York). By nineteen, having begun playing jazz while continuing his classical studies, he was in Manhattan, where he joined Bobby Watson for five years before spending nine years with Watson’s fellow Jazz Messengers alumnus, trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

The intricate, hard-swinging Navigator indicates Simon’s aptitude for those two bands and Pere combines highly evolved melodic writing with an almost McCoy Tyner-like physicality while the aptly named Simplicity, a beautiful ballad, shows a leaning more towards the poetry and touch of Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett.

Uninvited Thoughts harks back to Simon’s classical roots, at the same time showing his arranging talent with a wide instrumental palette (clarinet, bassoon and French horn all feature), and Triumphs takes us into attractive minimalism, with a train-like rhythm and an affecting, softly insistent vocal from Gretchen Parlato, one of three singers who make telling cameo appearances (the splendid Luciana Sousa and Genevieve Artadi are the others).

Just as the seventeen tracks on these two discs celebrate Simon’s own versatility and a keyboard talent that matches heat with lucidity, they also reflect his willingness to hand over the spotlight to others. Mark Turner’s lovely light-toned tenor saxophone playing and Larry Grenadier’s superb bass solo make Cabala Viejo all the more haunting and following Simon’s own athletic improvising, Jorge Glem’s sheer rhythmical brio on the cuatro (the guitar’s small South American cousin) makes the tumbling, urgently involved Barinas a joyous delight – and a fine place to start.

25 Years is released today, 9 October 2020. 

LINK: Edward Simon website

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