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Sonny Simmons Trio: Live – In Paris

Now should be the time for Sonny Simmons, who turns 70 next year. The alto saxophonist is as persuasive as he was in the 1960s, when he collaborated with Prince Lasha on the minor classic, Firebirds (OJC), and contributed to such overlooked albums as the sextet date co-led by Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, Illumination! (Impulse). Additionally, he has been championed by a subsequent generation of envelope-pushing jazz artists, such as Simmons’ cohorts in the Cosmosamatics.

What is not particularly needed at this juncture is an amateurishly engineered recording like the two-CD Live-In Paris. This club date has all the earmarks of a bootleg: too-close proximity of audience voices; tracks that abruptly and inexplicably fade out in the middle of a solo; the total absence of a stereo field; and the washy sound that is the fingerprint of small condenser microphones and battery-powered portable cassette recorders. Stunningly, however, the album was co-produced by Simmons and his Cosmosamatics front-line partner, Michael Marcus. To its credit, Arhoolie opted for two-for-one pricing for the album.

Given the consistently simmering interplay between Simmons, bass player Jean-Jacques Avenel (who is sloppily listed only as “Jacques Avenel”) and drummer George Brown, the album is recommendable to the diehard Simmons fan. Not only does it include a large sampling of Simmons’ gritty compositions, but also bebop flag-wavers such as “Salt Peanuts” and “Hot House,” which suggests Simmons’ style to be no simple alloy. Regardless of vehicle, Simmons’ flinty sound and tension-and-release approach to solo construction never fails to ignite Avenel and the too-rarely-heard Brown. One can only imagine the results if this trio was properly recorded.

The Cosmosamatics’ second CD reflects both continuity and change, the former being represented by a program brimming with solid writing that supports expansive improvisations, strong drumming by Jay Rosen and pungent contrasts between Simmons’ alto and English horn and Marcus’ straight tenor, soprano, bass clarinet and flute. Bass player Curtis Lundy, a somewhat surprising, but very effective replacement for William Parker, personifies the CD’s change. Lundy’s conception of the pocket may be more conventional than Parker’s, but he proves to be as persuasive here as he is with more straightahead players like Bobby Watson.

Given that strong partnerships with Lasha and trumpeter Barbara Donald have been central to Simmons’ career, it is fitting that he now has a blue-chip ensemble like the Cosmosamatics in which he can be first among equals. And Simmons deserves a committed label like Boxholder. One winces at the thought of the bright sparks of Simmons’ aptly titled “Echoes of Eric Dolphy” and the subtle blend of English horn and flute on his lilting “Rio Bahia” being rendered in muddy mono.

Originally Published