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Essential Albums

Marlon Simon and The Nagual Spirits: Rumba a la Patato

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Marlon Simon

There are many reasons why it is a remarkable travesty of justice that the celebrated Venezuelan drummer and percussionist, Marlon Simon, has had to resort to working a day job to get by – even whilst living in a country such as the United States of America. This is despite his prodigious genius as a drummer and percussionist as well as a composer and pedagogue. Mr Simon is the eldest son of the polymath and philosopher Hadsy Simon and brother of pianist Edward Simon and trumpeter Michael Simon, both of whom can also be heard on this album, Rumba a la Patato, one that he plays with his seminal Afro-Caribbean ensemble The Nagual Spirits.

Marlon Simon - Rumba a la Patato
Album cover – Marlon Simon: Rumba a la Patato

But the time has come for Mr. Simon to come back to the musical scene, with new ideas and projects, with renewed energy and commitment to his primary artistic profession, to his purpose in life as a dedicated performer and educator. And it is with great excitement that we announce today the revival of Marlon Simon and The Nagual Spirits.

Mr Simon has done much more than to take inspiration from the anthropologist and writer, Carlos Castañeda’s “Nagual” philosophy as espoused through his character and mentor, the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan Matus in his Ways of Seeing trilogy. He has relocated the way of The Nagual Spirit to the landscape of music. And so in keeping with the teachings of Don Juan Mr Simon’s music with his “(The) Nagual Spirits” is a sonic rendering of what it means to arrive an elevated sense of being; a sort of musical awakening into a rarefied realm so mystical that Mr Simon and those who play his music become at once entranced in a state of mind that he (Carlos Castañeda) calls “total freedom” and which the Yaqui shaman used to create “springboards into new horizons of cognition”.

In Mr Simon’s music – especially this repertoire that is created in praise of the great Afro-Cuban percussionist, Carlos “Patato” Valdés – this results in a ravishing elliptical groove that reverberates throughout the music. It is largely created and sustained by the mesmerising rhythms of the traditional Afro-Caribbean percussion and the Afro-American drumset. It isn’t, however, the kind of Afro-Cuban – the Yoruba rhythmic code – the “clave” that one might be used to from Latin-Jazz. The music breaks free of the regular beat and pulse cycles, sometimes drifting dreamily as if propelled by an invisible mysticism heralded by the shimmering cymbals impelled by pyro-technical drumming by Mr Simon and his percussionist, fellow-Venezuelan, Roberto Quintero.

The music attempts – rather successfully – to also present the spirit of Jazz in a new, “nagual” light. The magical pulsation of “Songo pa’ Monk” is a classic example of this relocation of the “nagual” spirit to music. It’s as if Mr Simon and the musicians of The Nagual Spirits are communicating with each other as well as in the inside of the listener’s mind on an alternate sonic frequency. The music is also playful in all its diabolical complexity and “Sandra Malandra” is an exquisite example of this puckishness. There are also, however, examples of Mr Simon’s gift for expressing great tenderness in song. One can hear this particularly in the elegiac “Ericka”, which is dedicated to his departed daughter, as well as in “Something for Carol”.

The Nagual Spirits is – at its core – made up of Mr Simon’s two brothers, Edward and Michael, Mr Quintero and Peter Brainin. On this occasion, Mr Simon is joined by the majestic Bobby Watson, Brian Lynch, the Venezuelan-born, US-based pianist Luis Perdomo and the great Andy González, who shares the bassist’s chair with John Benitez. Together the musicians take flight, guided at all times by the soaring “nagual” spirit of their high-priest Marlon Simon who leads the music into a rarefied realm while paying homage to one of the most celebrated ancestors with repertoire of mystical beauty on Rumba a la Patato.

Track list – 1: Rumba a la Patato; 2: Songo pa’ Monk; 3: Humble and Innocent; 4: Ericka; 5: Something for Carol; 6: Easy Mood; 7: Sandra Malandra; 8: Belleza India; 9: Clear to Take Off

Personnel – Marlon Simon: drum set, batá drums (1, 4) timbales (7) and percussion (1 – 6, 8, 9); Edward Simon: piano (2, 7, 8); Luis Perdomo: piano (1, 3 – 6, 9); John Benitez: bass (2, 4, 5, 7 – 9); Andy González: bass (1, 3, 6); Bobby Watson: alto saxophone (3, 6, 8) and soprano saxophone (4); Peter Brainin: tenor saxophone (1 – 3, 5 – 7, 9); Brian Lynch: trumpet (1, 2, 5, 7, 9); Michael Simon: trumpet (3, 6); Roberto Quintero: congas (2 – 7, 9), bongo (2), güiro (5)

Released – 2000
Label: Cubop/Ubiquity Records
Runtime – 56:35

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ricardo Zayas

    May 26, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    Mr. da Gama,
    I congratulate you on this wonderful review. In my opinion, Marlon Simon is an absolute genius. His command of the genre is undeniable. Besides his brilliance as a drum set player and percussionist, his command of dynamics is scary. He is a visionary composer and arranger/orchestrator.
    He is a master story teller. He is a musical treasure and stands tallest among the giants of Progressive Modern Latin Jazz. His music is so intelligent and spiritually honest. He is an immensely important musician deserving wider recognition and support by everyone who loves music. The best on planet earth.

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Essential Albums

Azymuth: Telecommunications

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This album, Telecommunications, is one of the most iconic recordings by Azymuth, the ineffably funky Brasilian trio. When it was released – on the Milestone label in 1982 – it became a monumental hit, propelling the group, it went Gold and exploded into the Top 10 in the British Charts, soaring heavenward in popularity all over Europe too.

It’s not hard to understand the extraordinary popularity of Azymuth. First and foremost has to be the unmatched funkiness of all the musicians who made up the original trio: keyboards superstar, vocalist and percussionist José Roberto Bertrami, who sadly passed away on July 8th 1012, Ivan Mamão Conti, who just has to be considered one of the most funky drummers since Zigaboo Modeliste, [who practically invented funk drumming as one of the illustrious members of the iconic New Orleans group The Meters], and bassist Alex Malherios whose rumble and roar made for the glue [together with Mamão] that solidified the rhythmic edifice of the trio, while the soloist [particularly, Bertrami] launched himself on his mighty solo flights.

Azymuth: Telecommunications
Azymuth: Telecommunications

It may have been the syncopation of choro that carried over into Brasili’s most iconic urban music and dance forms – samba, a versatile rhythm that can assume many forms. Heated up, with a shouted call-and-response verse backed by literally thousands of samba-school drums on parade, it becomes samba de enredo [the mass Carnival music that is famous the world over]. But what happens when you take the vocals out of the musical equation, funk up the rhythm, add a rumbling electric bass guitar and jazz up the rippling Brasilian percussion?

That’s when you get the funkiest music that became the clarion call of Brasilian funk music ensembles, of which Azymuth was probably the most famous, plying its stock-in-trade at all the major jazz festivals – from the Americas to Europe – Monterey to Montreux and way beyond.  The music on this seminal album, Telecommunications is characteristic of Azymuth at its very best. The repertoire came at a time when this heavyweight trio had reached the apogee of the musical style that continues to be a niche. A style that it had carved out for itself, with an eclectic, jazzy mix of Brasilian rhythms upon which were overlaid dallying soli by Mr Bertrami and Mamão, together with the rumbling bass of Mr Malherios.

Azymuth Trio
Azymuth Trio

Telecommunications’ opener “Estreito de Taruma” features a filing solo by the great Brasilian guitarist Helio Delmirio. The warm sonority, clean technique and penchant for spare ornamentation in his playing made him a guitarist like none other to come out of the raging flood of guitarists that cascaded out of the ocean of Brasilian music. The music that Mr Delmirio sculpted, from the steel strings at his fingertips, made the musical notes fly off the paper. His lines floated askance, oblique to the not so predictable keyboard playing by Mr Bertrami.

Throughout the two sides of this vinyl –superbly remastered by George Horn, by the way– we find music that is a testament to the musicians’ [and composers’] boundless invention. This music is replete with a wide expressive range and technical challenges, not to mention the fact that once all of the musicians have had their say, a musical structure is constructed that defies logic, convention and other well-worn stylistic hooks. So monumental is the music’s cachet. Mr Bertrami’s “Last Summer in Rio” and the wistful finale – “The House I Lived In” [together with its “Prelude” – as a finale, no less] is typical of the brooding, tumbling groove that Azymuth created for itself – a sound so unique among [any] other musicians from the 1970’s onward, is yet to be imitated, copied or otherwise reproduced by Brasilian artists other than Azymuth.

YouTube Playlist

Tracks – Side A – 1: Estreito de Taruma; 2: What Price Samba [Quanta Vale um Samba]; 3: Country Road [Chão de Terra]; 4: May I Have This Dance? [Concede me Esto Dança?]. Side B – 1: Nothing Will Be As It Was [Nada Sera Como Antes]; 2: Last Summer in Rio; 3: The House I Lived In [A Casa em Que Vivi]; Prelude

Musicians – José Roberto Bertrami: organ [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1-3], keyboards [Side A 2, 4; Side B 1, 2], vocoder [Side A 3, 4], vocal [Side A 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1]; Alex Malherios: electric bass [Side A 1, 4; Side B 2], fretless bass [Side A 2, 3; Side B 2]; bass guitar [Side A 4], and acoustic guitar [Side A 3]; Ivan Mamão Conti: drums [Side A 1, 2, 4; Side B 1, 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 3]; Special Guests – Helio Delmirio:  electric guitar [Aide A 1; Side B 2]; Aleuda: percussion [Side A 3, 4; Side B 1]; Dotô: repique [Side A 2]; Cidinho: percussion [Side B 2]

Released – 1982
Remastered and Released (vinyl) – 2022
Label – Milestone [1982]
Jazz Dispensary – [2022]
Runtime – Side A 19:21 Side B 21:43  

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