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Marlon Simon and The Nagual Spirits: On Different Paths

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Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits
Marlon Simon and The Nagual Spirits. Photo credit: Marcela Joya

In eleven tracks Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits explore a captivating and superbly imagined outing, On Different Paths. Marlon and his brothers Edward Simon and Michael Simon, all born in Venezuela, all composers, all esteemed instrumentalists, join together to delve into a sonic world with ties to jazz, European classical and world music. Having some experience with Edward’s piano playing through recordings with Charlie Sepulveda, SF Jazz Collective and his band with Scott Colley and Brian Blade, Steel House, I was somewhat prepared for  On Different Paths. What I was unprepared for is the composing and drumming of Marlon taking the listener into some delightful and brilliant textures. 

Of particular interest is the title tune “On Different Paths”, encompassing many influences but not adhering to any of them. Marlon demonstrates his virtuosic ability to combine many disparate elements into a seamless whole.“On Different Paths” displays a big band sound; two trumpets, tenor sax, and bassoon all contribute to a large dense sound scape. As co-musical director, Edward takes a beautifully-wrought solo, elevating the song to new heights.  

Marlon Simon and The Nagual Spirits - On Different Paths
Marlon Simon and The Nagual Spirits – On Different Paths

The disc kicks into high gear on the tune “Straight Ahead” where we get a full dose of Afro-Cuban percussion, courtesy of Roberto Quintero. Then Marlon switches it up and glides into a 4/4 jazz pattern eventually returning to a Cuban montuno. The way the band moves in between genres is quite remarkable, all the parts fit together so well. 

 Marlon pays a moving tribute to his father, “Pa” and it begins with Boris Koslov’s bowed bass to set the solemn mood. The light percussion of Quintero and the soft, sensitive piano created with care by Edward make for rewarding listening. “Missing Them” is dedicated to Marlon’s parents Hadsy Simon and Daisy Murillo. The cheerful melody receives an ethereal treatment during Brainin’s soprano sax work. Another song, “Rumba Pa’ Andy”, this time dedicated to the late great Andy González, a very influential bassist who played with Ray Barreto, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri and co-led Conjunto Libre with Manny Oquendo. Michael Simon, brother number three, takes a memorable solo on “Rumba Pa’ Andy” as Edward makes every note count during his solo.

A special note must be made about the excellent playing of Monica Ellis. The timbre of the bassoon gives the music a deeper, lived-in quality that is quite unique. Kudos to Marlon for including bassoon in a jazz context.

It seems as though Marlon has given us a look into his soul as there is a tribute to another member of his family. Marlon’s late daughter Ericka has been a continual inspiration for the composer and he has used a piece composed in 1999 on many of his previous albums, this time calling it, “Variations On Ericka’s Theme”. Marlon dedicates this version to the memory of Quintero’s daughter, who also passed away at a young age. The “Theme” is a showcase for Peter Brainin, who weaves in and out leaving a trail of soothing tenor sax.

Venezuela is never far from Marlon’s heart especially on the songs, “Un Canto Llanero” and “August 17th” (specifically dedicated to his father). The merengue groove from Venezuela forms the backbone of “Un Canto Llanero” as the band responds to the righteous rhythm. A traditional rhythm from Venezuela combined with a rhythm invented by Marlon underscore the elegiac “August 17th”. Hadsy Simon, author, philosopher and music enthusiast, must have been an influential, outstanding person to inspire such grand musical tributes.

The three remaining tracks, “Searching”, “Walking” and “Above Thought” are all worthy of mention. “Searching” sets the mood that we are about to enter a new and significant recording. “Walking” evokes an ambulatory ambiance with  repeated piano phrases. Finally “Above Thoughts” contains a pleasant ensemble score with an emphasis on the bassoon.

The Nagual is a shape-shifting animal and this directly  describes the music of bandleader Marlon Simon. He delights the ears with his ability to move through many genres, building a wonderful and whole personal expression. The Nagual Spirits play Marlon’s compositions with vitality and verve, making music which defies catagorization.

YouTube Playlist – Marlon Simon and The Nagual Spirits

Music – 1: Searching; 2: On Different Paths: 3: Walking; 4: Above Thoughts; 5: Straight Ahead; 6: Pa; 7: Un Canto Llanero; 8: Missing Them; 9: Rumba pa Andy; 10: Variations on Erika’s Theme; 11: August 17th.

Musicians – Marlon Simon: Musical Director, drum set & percussion; Edward Simon: Assistant Musical Director, piano; Boris Kozlov: bass; Peter Brainin: tenor & soprano sax; Alex Norris: trumpet & flugelhorn; Roberto Quintero: congas & percussion; Michael Simon: trumpet; Kevin Newton: french horn; Monica Ellis: bassoon; Rhumer Mora: bongos.

Released – 2024
Label – Truth Revolution Records
Runtime – 1:00:09

Brooks Geiken is a retired Spanish teacher, with a lifelong interest in music, specifically Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and Black American music. His wife thinks he should write a book titled "The White Dude's Guide to Afro-Cuban & Jazz Music". Brooks lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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