Pianist Edward Simon was born in Venezuela but has worked in the United States for 30 years. His origins are intermittently audible in his music—North American jazz with a subtle undercurrent of South American rhythmic allure. His colors tend toward the pastel. His lyricism does not impose itself upon you; it draws you in.
Simon’s preferred format is the trio, and his taste in bassists and drummers has long been exemplary—currently, he’s working with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. When he adds alto saxophonist David Binney, he calls the quartet Afinidad. Sorrows & Triumphs uses this group and several guests (guitarist Adam Rogers, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, percussionists Rogerio Boccato and Luisito Quintero) to perform two suites: the three-movement title work and the four-movement House of Numbers, on which Afinidad is augmented by a classical woodwind ensemble, Imani Winds.
This ambitious project is meticulously executed. Simon, Binney and Rogers take some nice solos. But on the tracks with Imani Winds, Simon’s writing is uncharacteristically overwrought. Flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet and French horn, as they trace their quick, intricate filigrees, sound frenetic and sometimes shrill. On “Triangle” and “Uninvited Thoughts,” the wind-ensemble sections feel tacked on, which might still work if they were more melodically attractive. The sense of heterogeneity is compounded by Simon’s odd decision to intermingle pieces from the two separate suites. Even “Venezuela Unida,” dedicated to his homeland, sounds fussy rather than deeply felt. It misses the emotion its subject should evoke, given the scale of human tragedy prevailing in that failed state.
The pieces without the wind ensemble are more compelling, but not by much. Sorrows & Triumphs, from an artist who has had many more hits than misses, is a miss.
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