Ken Simon Quartet: Another Side
Bob Rusch is a brutally honest man. As front man for Cadence magazine he calls things like he sees them staunchly leaving gloss and platitudes at the door. In like fashion his unflinching faith in the individual artistry of the musicians he documents on his CIMP label is directly manifest in the much-maligned minimalist recording techniques the label consistently employs. He’s been labeled and libeled as everything from impresario to curmudgeon, but even his detractors are forced to recognize his unflagging dedication to creative improvised music.
The liners he pens for each CIMP release are fearlessly forthcoming with the details behind each session, even if it means admitting personal fault or misjudgments. Rusch’s background sketch on Simon is characteristically frank. Simon’s date for CIMP was earned the hard way, through numerous tape submissions and numerous rejections. In the end Rusch heard something in the saxophonist’s sound worth recording and this disc, while flawed, points to the simple fact that he was right in giving Simon a vehicle to be heard.
Just exactly how legendary drummer Barry Altschul became involved in the project is unclear, but suffice it to say it’s a genuine pleasure to hear him back behind the drum kit tilling his signature soil of earthen rhythm. Four tracks and over seventy minutes leave plenty of space for blowing and Simon sets about from the start making the most of his time behind the Spirit Room’s sparsely numbered mics. “Sun-Modes” spreads out on Eastern-tinged modal wings. Altschul and Maker lay the rhythmic mortar for Simon to spiral his soprano across. Later in the piece, after a brief rhythmic interlude by drums and bass, both horns spar and Sylvester moves to the fore for a protracted and winding statement on alto. Lifting a resplendent feather from the Trane songbook the group runs through “Syeeda’s Song Flute” in half the time of the opening track, but ends up sounding a little half-baked soon after an audible count-off. After an almost requisite sounding run-through of the theme Simon’s tenor winds through a string of choruses incorporating of a few Dolphyian leaps in register along the way. Sylvester’s pinched soprano follows in a more lyrical frame tiptoeing through the changes in a solo that never really gains steam. Altschul moves in for a quick drum break before a thematic resolution signals the close.
The angular “No Contact,” a meditation on modern ennui, opens with measured dissonance between the horns punctuated by press rolls from Altschul. Fractured conversational sections ensue with Simon or Sylvester stating an idea that is quickly answered by Maker or Altschul. Several minutes in a discernable tempo solidifies only to be carved apart again by call and response. Altschul is afforded ample time toward the close to demonstrate his undiminished skill at fitting disparate rhythms into a contrastive, but cohesive percussive puzzle. Multi-sectional by design this tune doesn’t preserve an overarching structure strong enough to support the individual weights of its episodes, but perhaps that’s the point. Rounding out the journey with a rousing reading of “Yesterdays” the quartet benefits from the melodic grounding of the standard. First Simon on soprano, then Sylvester on alto parse down the theme into constituent parts, recombinating them in true improvisatory style.
While this disc clearly delineates Simon’s skills both as an improviser and bandleader it also shows him as an artist still caught in the throes of artistic development. There are moments where the bridge between technical facility and emotive expression does not seem fully formed and the result manifests in a program that doesn’t always connect at the visceral level. But far from being problematic the fact that Simon is still in flux speaks both to his creative integrity and to what is certain to be a bright future in the music.
CIMP on the web: http://www.cadencebuilding.com
Track Listing: Sun-Modes/ Syeeda
Personnel: Ken Simon- tenor & soprano saxophones; Jorge Sylvester- alto & soprano saxophones; Greg Maker- bass; Barry Altschul- drums. Recorded: February 21 & 22, 2000, Rossie, NY.