Michael Simon: New York Encounter

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It is not obvious that Michael Simon is a native of Venezuela, who owes as much to that tradition as he does to the jazz one that he weaves in and out of. But then nothing is obvious about Michael Simon: not his trumpet-playing antecedents, nor his compositional ones, or who he follows—figuratively-speaking, of course. However, it is safe to say that his musical voice burns with a quiet fire, just like that of his brother, the pianist, Edward and his other drumming sibling, Marlon. And this fire bursts forth with spectacular pomp and circumstance every so often, when the folkloric persona of the Simon’s bursts into flames on this fine album, New York Encounter. At least Simon does not reveal this Venezuelan folk persona until the roaring parranda sequence in his extraordinary suite, “House of Thoughts”. The ecstatic dancing nature of the music that pervades throughout the album culminates with abandon on Simon’s masterful composition “Joy is Within”, but its swing of delight is felt throughout.

Michael Simon is an extremely talented composer and musician. His horn-playing is marked with the blazing staccato accents that punctuate his playing as they emerge like fireballs from the bell of his horn. He rarely plays in long lines here, preferring to make short stabbing forays into the melody, entwined with his brother Edward’s galloping arpeggios and the swerving interloping of Peter Brainin’s tenor saxophone or Miguel Zenon’s alto horn. He is wont to tear down a melodic line, recasting it somewhere in the middle of a sequence to construct an altogether new melodic motif. Or he might retreat into a harmonic role, softly suggesting a muted chord that changes the complexion of the music altogether. All this suits his role as a musical facilitator of sorts throughout this album, where his voice appears to be heard not always at the forefront of the music, but when you least expect it, making for a delightful surprise always.

Thus, New York Encounter is itself an album of surprises. The superb blues of “Blues del Silencio trio” for instance, which is a soul-stirring minor blues, for instance, breaks down the swagger of his Latin rhythms after they are boldly stated. This is a wonderful surprise, as is the gentle, culo e’puya drums that rock throughout the myriad pirouettes of “Joy is Within”. In fact Simon’s drumming brother has much to do not only with the unwavering high quality of the rhythm section but with the wondrous character of the music itself. His subtle coloring of “Sabor Intimo” is brilliantly contrasted with the bold statements on “Mi Amigo el Machista” and the joyous celebration of “Fiestas”. Edward Simon completes the superb filial presence on this album.

It would be remiss if the presence of bassists, Andy Gonzalez and Boris Kozlov were not acknowledged here. Gonzalez plays with growling muscularity and his roaring accents match the sinewy thrusts of percussion and brass. Kozlov is a revelation as he negotiates the shifting rhythms of the Latin tinge with great intellect and purple-toned majesty. A word about Kozlov: He is a White Russian of a bassist and his lineage spans continents as he aligns himself as much with the complex structures of the music of Charles Mingus as well as with the twists and turns of his Latin peers. His insidious tone contains large dollops of joy as well and this bodes well for his sustained presence in the world of Latin rhythms. So full marks to Michael Simon with another splendid album that is both interminably joyful and utterly memorable as well.

Track Listing: Mi Amigo el Machista; New York Encounter; House of Thoughts; Sabor Intimo; Fiestas; Blues del Silencio Trio; Joy is Within; Equanimity.

Personnel: Michael Simon: trumpet (1, 2, 4-8), flugelhorn (3); Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone (1, 3-6, 8); Peter Brainin: tenor saxophone (1-5); Edward Simon: piano; Andy González: bass (1, 2, 7); Boris Kozlov: bass (3-6, 8); Marlon Simon: drum set, bata drums, minor percussion, timpani, gong, vocals (7); Roberto Quintero: congas, güiro (4), parranda drum (3), culo e’puya drums—prima, cruzao, pujao—(7), vocals (7); Luisito Quintero: timbales (1); Noah Bless: trombone (7).

Released – 2009
Label: Fresh Sound Records
Runtime – 59:07

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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