Some artists maintain a busy release schedule, putting out an album a year—sometimes, in the case of musicians like guitarist Bill Frisell, even more frequently—while others, for a variety of reasons, are less prolific. Pianist Edward Simon has, in recent years, been issuing albums with broader distribution under his own name—which automatically discounts 2010's independently released but undeniably fine Danny Boy—about once every three years on labels ranging from The Netherlands' Criss Cross to Italy's Cam Jazz. Live in New York at Jazz Standard is the third in a consecutive string of recordings to feature his seven year-old trio with bassist John Patitucci and ubiquitous drummer Brian Blade, but it's both his first live recording and the first to be issued on the American Sunnyside imprint. Sometimes, making your fans wait is a good thing; in this case, Simon's set, recorded at New York's Jazz Standard—drawing primarily from Unicity (Cam Jazz, 2006) and from Poesia (Cam Jazz, 2009), but also containing a surprise or two—has unequivocally been worth the wait, and continues to position the ever-inventive pianist as one of his generation's most watch-worthy.
In a recent discussion with Richie Beirach, the pianist suggested that one of the characteristics of "real improvisers" is being motif-driven and, while his statement might be a controversial one that will engender plenty of discussion and debate, it certainly fits Simon's approach. Whether soloing in the somewhat more constricted (time-wise) confines of the recording studio or stretching out as he does here, Simon has always been a thoughtful player whose solos often build from evolving motifs; cerebral, even, but as evidenced on tunes like the irregularly metered, Latin-esque "Pere"—the modal set-closer, drawn from a much earlier collaboration with saxophonist David Binney, Afinidad (RED, 2001)—the pianist proves that music of the head need not preclude the heart, as his solo builds, carefully, considerately, inevitably, to its climactic conclusion before settling into an ostinato-based feature for Blade, a name for whom the term "incendiary" has always been a synonym. Dynamic, but peppered with thunderous crashes and audible whoops and hollers, Blade's as unfettered as it gets—a player, in some ways, the antithesis of Simon in his almost entirely instinctive approach—and, perhaps, the very reason they work so well together.
Patitucci—whose early years were spent largely in fusion and near-smooth jazz territory with artists like pianists Chick Corea and David Benoit, and saxophonist Eric Marienthal—has completely reinvented himself over the past decade, largely through his work in saxophonist Wayne Shorter's quartet (also with Blade), heard recently on the exploratory excellence of Without a Net (Blue Note, 2013). Here, he proves himself equally imaginative, whether swinging with unrelenting fervor on Simon's set-opening title track from Poesia, or contributing soaring arco to the more abstract terrain of the pianist's "Pathless Path," from Unicity, stretched here to nearly three times its original length. Bookended by a first-time look at Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Chovendo na Roseira"—beginning with an a cappella pizzicato solo from Patitucci that leads to a more pulse-driven but still ethereal reading, only settling into more recognizable reverence halfway through its nearly 14-minute duration—and Simon's ambling take on saxophonist John Coltrane's change-driven rite of passage, "Giant Steps," first heard on Poesia, "Pathless Path" becomes the dramatic centerpiece to Live's hour-long set.
Simon remains a busy player, in particular with his ongoing work as a member of the SFJAZZ Collective, last heard live and on record performing the music of soul legend Stevie Wonder, and in the Ninety Miles (Concord, 2011) touring band, with vibraphonist Stefon Harris, saxophonist David Sánchez and trumpeter Nicholas Payton (replacing the album's Christian Scott), which clocked considerable road time in 2012 includinga terrific stop at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. He may not release his own albums as often as some might like, but when a record like Live in New York at Jazz Standard comes along—a stellar date that combines head and heart, mainstream and more eclectic concerns, and appealing, broad-reaching originals with distinctive arrangements of well-known standards, all played by a trio clearly at the top of its game—then all is forgiven and, while waiting for Simon's next release, there's a growing discography with one more fine entry to return to, time and again.
John Kelman - AllAboutJazz.com 5/17/13
With a winning combination, it's rarely a good idea to mess with it. Pianist Edward Simon has recorded with a number of great trios, including the one at the core of Simplicitas (Criss Cross, 2005). His music took a giant leap forward, however—in terms of composition, arrangement and performance—with Unicity (Cam Jazz, 2006), featuring bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. The greater freedom, latitude and time that Cam allows its artists is surely another factor, as opposed to Criss Cross' one-day, six-hour sessions (which still, remarkably, manage to result in consistently fine releases). Patitucci and Blade return on Poesia, an album that takes the successes of Unicity to another level.
Simon's writing continues to mine the nexus of head and heart, but he's also getting better at finding that often elusive juncture. Cerebral music is all well and fine, but if it doesn't resonate, it has little meaning. Simon's music—whether it's a complex chart like the episodic and dramatically expansive "Intention" or the spare melancholy of "My Love For You," a solo piano piece that bookends Poesia with two different takes—has always been emotionally deep. Still, as time passes, his innate ability to create effortless contexts of no small challenge for his trio that reach deep into the heart and soul continues to be a compositional definer for this virtuosic but never excessive pianist.
Simon's interests reach far and wide, including no small amount of classical references, hints of his own Latin heritage and, of course, the jazz tradition. But while many have created arrangements for saxophone legend John Coltrane's iconic and change-heavy classic, "Giant Steps," few have given it this extensive a makeover. It's all there—the relentless chord changes, the unmistakable melody—but Simon has twisted it on such an angle that it becomes a quirky tune that shifts from staggered rhythm to occasional clear swing as both he and Patitucci weave cogent melodies through it and Blade acts as both responder and driver.
Simon's an economical player who never overstays his welcome, choosing instead to compose material with longer narratives and, while leaving plenty of room for the group to explore, avoids feeling anything approaching a "head-solo-head" aesthetic. Instead, there's an almost cinematic feel to tunes like "Winter," which has an unmistakable theme that's returned to following a particularly inventive and motivic-centric piano solo.
"One for J.P." is a bright piece that's a mélange of shifting meters and near-funk, even as Patitucci overdubs an upper register harmony line on electric bass, augmenting Simon atop his more pulse-centric acoustic bass. "Roby" is a dark-hued ballad driven by Blade's soft mallets and Simon's elegantly light touch, while the title track is an up-tempo composition that, in its own distinct way, feels a kinship with another Cam artist, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.
Simon's visibility continues to grow and, with the at once challenging and beautiful Poesia, he has once again delivered an album that deserves a spot as one of the best piano trio records of the year.
John Kelman AllAboutJazz.com 30/06/09
Bill Evans once wrote of Wynton Kelly’s ability to be spontaneous, yet instinctively organised musically. Edward Simon, a very different pianist, has that same gift for balancing intellect and emotion, and the creative tension of that yin and yang is a characteristic of his superb trio with John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, radically recast in terms of rhythm and line (they keep the notoriously difficult changes), epitomises this in an original and compelling performance that is echoed elsewhere: in “Winter”, a lovely piece with contrasting strains; on a buoyant “One for JP”, on which Patitucci dubs electric bass; in the complexities of Intention; and the beautiful “Roby” and “Poesía”. In an essential release by one of the finest trios in jazz right now, the trio pieces are framed by two absolutely gorgeous solo piano takes of Simon’s “My Love for You”.
The Irish Times Ray Comiskey 17/07/09
The musicians who have played the most important roles in the Venezuelan pianist’s career since he arrived in New York some 20 years ago include Greg Osby, Bobby Watson, Terence Blanchard and David Binney, whose Criss Cross date with Simon was high up on my 2008 year’s best list. Now 40, he’s back in a trio format with two thirds of Wayne Shorter’s rhythm section – a bass and drums team that really knows what the other is going to play before he himself does. The three work so well together in a variety of settings, with Simon’s classical background, his South American roots and his unhurried, occasionally Mon-influenced love of jazz stating the ground rules. He has a special gift of sounding quietly controlled, but with warmth and soulfulness. The CD opens and closes with two takes on an original ballad (“My Love For You”= in a distinctly sad-happy wistful vein. Then two tracks later, comes one of the most distinctive original treatments to date of Trane’s “Giant Steps”. Mid-tempo, it takes you a while to recognise what it is. Then comes the first of two terrific tracks featuring Patitucci on electric bass – “One For JP”, which swings non-stop and later “Triumph”, with its hypnotic left handed rolling riff-enfused beat. Blade really enjoys himself on both and graces the other titles, mostly ballads, with taste and intelligence. A majestic trio record, with “Giant Steps” the most enthralling of many highspots.
Tony Hall Jazzwise 08/09/09
At 40, Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon hasn’t acquired the kind of name recognition that many of his contemporaries enjoy, but on the strength of “Poesía” that doesn’t seem fair. Bookended by two slowly unfolding takes of his pretty “My Love For You”, the album is filled with absorbing piano work, attractive writing and a rhythm section–bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade–that alternately purrs and roars.
The deliberate placement of the two takes of the love song indicate the care Simon has taken in pacing the album, and two Patitucci compositions play key roles. “Winter” features a rolling piano lead, beautifully articulated, and the kind of coiled energy that Wayne Shorter has come to rely on from Patitucci and Blade. “Roby” opens with meditative, ringing notes from Simon, and then expands into a dark, quiet ballad.
Patitucci’s tuneful electric work provides sonic contrast on “One For J.P.”, and a pair of aggressive Simon tunes balances the ballads and demonstrates the full power of the band. Again, Simon’s pacing pays dividends, as the choppy “Intention”–with its jagged, five-note bass motif–gives way to the surging “Triumph”. Best of all is a de-construction of “Giant Steps” that could only work with a trio with superior harmonic and rhythmic sense.
James Hale Downbeat 01/11/09
Voted "Best CD of 2007" DOWNBEAT
Even while he was working with Terence Blanchard from 1995-2001, pianist Edward Simon was steadily building a solid catalog of his own ensemble albums that fused jazz with Latin and a multitude of South American rhythms. That vibe has continued in his years since leaving the trumpeter's fold, coming to its greatest fruition with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade (half of Wayne Shorter's Quartet) on Patitucci's discs Communion and Songs, Stories & Spirituals. With Unicity, Simon leads his own project with the trio, expanding upon their vibrant chemistry. The project can be appreciated by casual jazz fans who just like thoughtful, sometimes swinging melodies (the galloping "The Midst of Chaos" being the most explosive, spirited moment) and hypnotic meditation passages. True students of the art form and its potential for fusion with world cultures will appreciate this outing on a deeper level, as the brooding, multi-movement "Abiding Unicity" and its reprise are shout-outs to Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti, and "Prelude #9" features a clever time signature switch from the original composition by Catalonian composer Federico Mompou. Some of this contemplative depth might be lost on the casual listener seeking something to emotionally connect with, but what comes through is the effortless shared passion the trio have for true jazz invention.
Jonathan Widran http://allmusic.com 06/10/06
Reconvening the same core quartet as on Afinidad (Red, 2001), altoist David Binney and pianist Edward Simon demonstrate how a collaborative effort can bear the distinct imprint of each musician while, at the same time, possessing its own indelible stamp.
Binney and Simon have emerged, over the past decade, as leaders in an evolving musical context informed by broader cultural concerns, often complex harmonic and rhythmic foundations, and a fresh thematic approach that's eminently lyrical yet steadfastly avoids the obvious. Both are fine soloists, able to combine a sense of the cerebral with deeper emotional resonance. Teamed with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade, Océanos is a compellingly listenable album, despite some considerable challenges hidden underneath the covers.
Binney's "We Dream Oceans" opens the disc with simmering intensity. Percussionist Pernell Saturnino augments Blade's delicate touch, while guitarist Adam Rogers and Binney double a theme that first stands alone but is ultimately countered by Luciana Souza's wordless vocals. Simon builds a lithely focused solo that gradually intensifies, leading to a recapitulation of the theme and a solo from Binney that's as much about the sound of the notes as the notes themselves, building to a fever pitch only to fade to a gentler coda.
While there's plenty of solo space, Océanos is as much about composition and arrangement, with Binney and Simon making judicious use of the added guests. Binney's polyrhythmic and Latin-esque "El Parrandero" makes full use of the three-piece horn section, creating a sound that's at times sharply pointed, other times richly expansive, contrasting with "We Dream Oceans" where the horns are used only briefly to reinforce the tune's final figure.
Simon's 9/4 "Impossible Question" is first heard in expanded form, with Rogers' acoustic guitar solo navigating the pianist's changes with ease and Blade delivering a short but energetic solo. Binney's most powerful improvisation of the set is heard on a later reprise; a shorter but more texturally lush version that's expanded to include the horn section and percussion.
Binney's closer, "Home," begins with a poignant theme that unfolds gradually but keeps returning to the same four-chord pattern. Colley and Simon both deliver lyrical solos before returning to the theme, leading into a repetition of that same four-chord pattern as a foundation for Binney's final solo which, bolstered by the rest of the group, builds the "Home" to a powerful climax before ending on an etheral note.
Continuing to collaborate periodically over the years acts as a yardstick of both individual growth and a shared aesthetic for Binney and Simon. Océanos is their best pairing yet—an album that brings together two strong musical minds to create a whole that's truly greater than the sum of its parts.
AllAboutJazz.com John Kelman April 19, 2007
Recorded in 2004 and released in 2007, this studio set provides another musical viewpoint set forth by the collaborations (2001's Afinadad, on Red Records) of pianist Edward Simon and saxophonist David Binney. With lithe supported from bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade, the music iterated here parallels the album title. Think of a soothing coastal breeze during a sunset, where the bustling ocean undercurrents provide a lucid framework for the mind's eye.
Vocalist Luciana Souza's over-the-top vocalise serves as an additional instrumental voice amid these mood-evoking vistas spiced with Latin rhythms and multilayered horns. Binney's climactically-driven sax solos offer gobs of thematic nuances during these largely medium-tempo jaunts highlighting Simon's eloquent and often-nimble phrasings. On "Impossible Question, Simon and guitarist Adam Rogers go head to head as Blade's offbeat accents assist with positioning a framework for the horn sections punchy choruses. And in other regions of sound and scope, the artists pursue interleaving passages and strategically-placed dynamics with buoyantly executed slices of Brazilian music.
Binney redefines the primary melody during his beautifully constructed solo on "Twenty Four Miles to Go, where sinuous and ascending lines transmit a hip and modernistic jazz vibe. Otherwise, this is an attractive outing that doesn't veer off into abstruse angles or sway heavily into specific genres. Binney and Simon effectively incorporate a succession of multilayered arrangements that seamlessly integrate the base elements of Latin music into the modern-mainstream jazz vernacular.
AllAboutJazz.com Glenn Astarita April 22, 2007