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

Raul Da Gama
Raul Da Gama
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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