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