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January/February 2005

Norman Simmons
In Private
Savant

That Norman Simmons swings his tail off at all tempos comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with his work over the past five decades. Of course focusing in on his playing often means isolating him from the featured artist: Simmons has long been a leading accompanist for singers (Carmen McRae, Joe Williams) and a valued sideman for instrumentalists (Johnny Griffin, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis). On his own, this musician's musician takes a tried-and-true route, employing-for the most part-a trio format to interpret standards on In Private (Savant). Conventional on the surface, the album exhibits how an authoritative stylist can reinvigorate the most orthodox of situations. An infallible rhythmic sense that informs his every note, and a seeming inability to execute a tasteless phrase all contribute to Simmons' home run here as well. From the easy-swinging group performances, including a slow drag interpretation of "Caravan" that marches to the incongruous but captivating rat-a-tat-tat of drummer Paul Humphrey's martial beat, to Simmons' three lustrous solo numbers, it all works.

Originally published in January/February 2005
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