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Essential Albums

Marlon Simon: The Music of Marlon Simon

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Marlon SImon: The Music of Marlon SImon

Essential Albums Revisited*****

It took a while for Marlon Simon to launch his celebrated career as a leader of his own ensembles. He took the plunge, however, in 1998, when he was invited by Dennis Sheppard of the K-Jazz label to debut his music. When the time came to enter the studios in New York, Mr Simon had enviable credentials already and it would not be difficult to bring together a group of monumental figures in music to lend a hand in interpreting Mr Simon’s music.

The group was headlined by alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, one-time music director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Also joining in the festivities was trumpeter Brian Lynch [who would go on to grace Eddie Palmieri’s Afro-Caribbean Jazz Ensemble], the great Jerry González, performing on congas, and fellow Fort Apache Band musician, the tenor saxophonist John Stubblefield.

Mr Simon also invited the iconic Venezuelan conguero, Roberto Quintero and Puerto Rican master, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel to bolster the rhythmists, while the bass chair would be held down with gravitas – alternately – by John Benítez and Joe Santiago. Mr Simon’s brother, pianist Edward Simon completed the group’s rhythmists and Joanna Marie delivered a breathtaking vocal performance on the bolero, “Como Fué”.

Not surprisingly the album came to be titled The Music of Marlon Simon, because the repertoire, in fact, served to launch Mr Simon’s voice not only as the great drummer and percussion colourist that he was, but also as a formidable composer. Naturally seven of ten songs in the repertoire of the album come from the pen of Mr Simon. However, saying that Mr Simon composes with a pen, does not give the whole picture. Indeed this music – which swings with unbridled energy as in “Root Medley”, and unfurls seemingly suspended in time, as in the bittersweet melodicism of “Hard Times with Nena” – appears to come directly from the raw nerve endings of its composer.

Moreover, Mr Simon employs a vast palette of colours, daubed and woven into a wondrous canvas and that too, expressed in a myriad textures on a battery of percussion from the drum set and bàtás to timbales and assorted percussion. All of this forms a veritable symphonic, albeit rhythmic soundscape upon which the music ultimately casts its impressive image. With a celestial cast in orbit around Mr Simon’s sinewy rhythms, the music is exquisitely performed, with idiomatic soli from each of the stars who have interiorised this music to perfection.

In the midst of all this exuberance the shimmering star of Mr Simon was launched while the roots of his monumental group – The Nagual Spirits – were born in these auspicious circumstances: as a matter of fact, in the very eloquent music of Marlon Simon.

Track list – 1: Para Pucho; 2: Little Stars; 3: Mi Niña; 4: Root Medley; 5: Dance of the Infidels; 6: Remembrance; 7: Como Fué; 8: Blues Pa’ Changuito; 9: Hard Times with Nena; 10: Heidi

Personnel – Bobby Watson: alto saxophone [1 – 4, 6, 8, 10] and soprano saxophone [9]; John Stubblefield: tenor saxophone [2, 3, 6, 8]; Brian Lynch: trumpet [1, 10] and flugelhorn [4]; Edward Simon: piano; Joe Santiago: bass [1, 4, 10]; John Benítez: bass [2, 3, 5 – 8, 10]; Marlon Simon: drum set [1 – 8, 10], bàtá [2, 4, 10], timbales [1, 5, 6, 8, 10] and percussion [2, 3,  5 – 10]; Wilson “Chembo” Corniel: congas [1] and chekeré [4, 10]; Roberto Quintero: congas [2, 3, 5 – 8]; Jerry González: congas [10]; Joanna Marie: vocals [7]

Released – 1998
Label – K-Jazz
Runtime – 58:01

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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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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