Pianist-Composer Edward Simon Presents the Album Sorrows and Triumphs,
Featuring Afinidad, his Quartet with Alto Saxophonist David Binney,
Bassist Scott Colley and Drummer Brian Blade
The richly textured Sorrows and Triumphs - to be released April 20, 2018, via Sunnyside Records - is also colored by very special guests: vocalist Gretchen Parlato, guitarist Adam Rogers
and chamber quintet Imani Winds
"One of the strongest pianists of his generation, with intuitive empathy and drum-like ingenuity, Simon solos compositionally with passionate elegance." - DownBeat
The three tracks on Sorrows and Triumphs drawn from the original title suite - "Equanimity," "Rebirth" and "Triumphs" - feature Afinidad with Parlato, Rogers and Baccato, the compositions inspired by Simon's studies of Buddhism over two decades. Afinidad first performed the "Sorrows and Triumphs" suite in 2009 at Walton Performing Arts Center in Arkansas and later at New York's Jazz Standard, with performances broadcast on NPR's Jazz Set. "The music isn't narrative in any way," Simon explains. "But it was inspired intuitively by the effects Buddhist practice has had on me, the perspective and the little bits of enlightenment that come every day. I wrote my own words for 'Triumphs,' but Gretchen has also studied Buddhism, so when I asked her to contribute lyrics to 'Rebirth,' she knew exactly how to convey the message. Gretchen is such a special singer, who has the gift making the most of small details to expressive effect. She knows that just a whisper can have a big impact. As for the compositions, I wanted them to bring joy to the listener, to be direct and accessible, with singable melodies."
The album's tracks taken from the suite "House of Numbers" - "Uninvited Thoughts," "Triangle," "Chant" and "Venezuela Unida" - feature Afinidad with Quintero and award-winning classical group Imani Winds. The ballad highlight "Chant" also includes words and vocals by Parlato. Simon's compositions explore the cross-cultural resonance of numerology, as well as the musical possibilities that arise when jazz and classical artists combine. The music draws on traditions from Europe, Africa, North America and South America, blending composed structures with sections for improvisation; the numbers 3, 4, 5 and 7 - and their cultural and musical implications - form the basis of the suite's four pieces. The composer explains: "The number 3, for instance, can suggest triple meters, such as 3/4, 6/4 or 6/8, which in turn can suggest certain grooves, particularly in the music of South America. It can also point to the use of triads and three-bar phrases. Above all, the number 3 points to the even distribution of forces into three equal parts, which suggests balance - an ideal in nature and life." Afinidad and Imani Winds unveiled House of Numbers in 2016 at California's University of the Pacific.
Simon and Binney share a 25-year affinity, their musical visions as simpatico as their personalities. "Dave is eclectic, open to all sorts of influences, and has the ability to put them together into something personal, as a player and as a composer," Simon remarks. "We have both composed for Afinidad over the years, even though this album is mine as a composer. But David's sharp ear for aesthetic beauty makes him a great sounding board in the studio - in addition to being a featured player, he has real producing chops. He co-produced the track 'Triumphs' with me, adding electronics." For his part, Binney says: "I've always enjoyed Ed's sensitive musicality. His musical concept sums up the way I hear things, and because of his Latin American roots, his rhythmic sense is very strong, which complements the way I play. Sometimes I play with more abandon, and he locks things in. And his compositions have such thought behind them." About Colley and Blade, who are leaders in their own right, Simon adds: "Musicians who are composers interpret other people's music in a more informed way, so Scott and Brian have the sensibility to articulate my music with sensitivity to space, to quality of sound, to textural nuance."
Guitarist Adam Rogers has been part of the extended Afinidad family for years. "He's such a strong improver," Simon explains, "and his versatility as a player, whether on electric or acoustic, adds a lot to what we can do texturally." About the extra percussion of Boccato and Quintero, Simon adds: "Groove has always been a vital aspect of music for me, and with a lot of this music influenced by classical minimalism - especially Steve Reich - the extra percussion helps articulate the groove. And in 'Venezuela Unida,' Luis plays the culo'e puya, a long, narrow drum, played in sets of three, associated with Afro-Venezuelan music. This composition is dedicated to my homeland. Venezuela has undergone tremendous socio-economic and political changes during the past decade. It pains me to see the strong divisions that have emerged as a result and the great difficulty people are going through. I wish for my fellow Venezuelans to elevate themselves beyond differences in views and hope they manage to find peace, understanding and unity once again."
As a young striver, Simon took the piano chair in Bobby Watson's band Horizon (1989-94), later moving to the Terence Blanchard Group (1994-2002). Simon made his debut album as a leader in 1994 with Beauty Within (Audioquest). The same year, he placed third in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, with the albums Edward Simon (Kokopelli, 1995) and La Bikina (Mythology, 1998) to follow. Simon co-founded the quartet Afinidad with David Binney, releasing the discs Afinidad (Red Records, 2001) and Océanos (Criss Cross, 2007) with the rhythm duo of Scott Colley and Brian Blade. Simon and Binney also released the duo album Fiestas de Agosto (Red Records, 2008). In 2010, Simon was named a Guggenheim Fellow, and he became a member of the SFJAZZ Collective, which comprises what The New York Times called "eight of today's most in-demand" performer-composers.
Following his leader discs The Process (Criss Cross, 2003) and Simplicitas (Criss Cross, 2005), Simon recorded several albums featuring his All-Star Trio with Blade and bassist John Patitucci; complementing the studio discs Unicity (CamJazz, 2006) and Poesía (CamJazz, 2009), the group's most recent release is the 2013 Sunnyside album Trio Live, recorded at New York's Jazz Standard. The New York Times praised Simon's "warm touch" as a pianist, while Jazz Journal International singled out his "deep emotional statements" as a composer. With the folk-accented compositions of his album Venezuelan Suite (Sunnyside, 2014), Simon garnered some of the most glowing reviews of his career, including a rating of four-and-a-half out of five stars from DownBeat. With Venezuelan Suite, the pianist blended the tuneful, buoyant sounds of his native country with the harmonically sophisticated, forward-looking manner of jazz. The compositions - written on a grant from Chamber Music America - featured star saxophonist Mark Turner alongside virtuosos of the Venezuelan folk tradition. All About Jazz marveled over the album: "Venezuelan Suite is pianist Edward Simon's love letter to his homeland, but that's not all it is; it's the perfect confluence of Venezuelan ideals, jazz language and chamber-esque sophistication. In short, it's a masterpiece."
Latin American Songbook (Sunnyside, 2016) saw Simon create artful piano-trio arrangements of such classics as Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango" and Antônio Carlos Jobim's "Chega de Saudade," as well as the Cuban ballad "En La Orilla Del Mundo" (On the Edge of the World). NPR's All Things Considered said: "This recording works because an expert musician applies himself so sincerely to songs that were formative for him. Simon puts his head and heart into Latin American Songbook, and the album gives Latin standards a rightful and joyful place at the center of instrumental jazz." In fall 2017, Simon, Colley and Blade released their first album as a cooperative trio, the eponymous Steel House.
1. "Incessant Desires"
2. "Uninvited Thoughts"
6. "Venezuela Unida"
Produced and composed by Edward Simon
"Triumphs" co-produced by Edward Simon & David Binney
Lyrics for "Chant" and "Rebirth" by Gretchen Parlato
David Binney, alto saxophone
Scott Colley, double-bass
Brian Blade, drums
Gretchen Parlato, vocals
Adam Rogers, guitars
Valerie Coleman, flute
Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe
Monica Ellis, bassoon
Mark Dover, clarinet
Jeff Scott, French horn
Rogerio Baccato, percussion (3, 7)
Luis Quintero, percussion (2, 4, 6)