RANDY SIMON JAZZ PROJECT
by Randy Treece
We can only marvel at those who aptly reshape themselves throughout their brief journey through the cosmos of life. Those remolded souls that viscerally come to mind are heralded artists who reinvented themselves throughout their careers - Miles Davis, Cher, and Madonna to name just a few. But none could be more dynamic, more compelling, than a creative soul who later in his journey marries two apparently irreconcilable disciplines - the juxtaposing of science and art. But then there is Randy Simon.
Simon is a physicist, businessman, and, notably, a jazz devotee. Desiring to expand his horizon beyond mere aficionado, and after undertaking piano lessons for several years, Simon literally transformed himself from an avid fan and skillful scientist to become a remarkable composer. Now some may not be so taken with this declarative notion of a momentous transition between the rigors of science and the prescience of art. They would argue that indeed these two disciplines are more intercommunicated than disconnected by observing, of course, that highly creative individuals, no matter the discipline, are endowed with a highly-developed cognition capable of miraculous innovation and rediscovery. But, I digress. Simon explains this phenomenon as akin to a mid-life crisis, without the fast car and faster women. Nonetheless, this guy has native intelligence and talent and has prodigiously produced a depository of tantalizing songs.
"Awakening" is not Simon's maiden voyage in recording his compositions; in fact it is his third project. For an artist who has not been practicing this craft too long, he now has a representative body of work in "Awakening." Overall, the music on this CD is vibrant, colorful, absent of any sharp contours, and strikingly meaningful. As he has done in the past, he has invited a coterie of the Capital Region's finest musicians to make his songs come to life. Those who are acquainted with the local jazz scene may recognize the following musicians: Adrian Cohen (piano); George Muscatello (guitar); Danny Whelchel (drums); Kevin Barcomb (saxes); Mike DelPrete (bass); and Peter Bellino (horns). All are great musicians in their own right and they all delivered an apropos wallop to each song as they are utilized in various musical groupings.
The recording starts with a wonderful selection, "Awakening," the title track. Here we have the full complement of musicians delivering an absorbing melody accompanied by a sprightly, Latin bejeweled rhythmic song. Each musician is endowed with an ample opportunity to improvise and display their musical wares. Of particular note, Kevin Barcomb on sax and George Muscatello on guitar provide stellar performances.
Featured next is a quintet on a composition called "Cinco-Patton." The song has an air of familiarity and one can hear elements of Horace Silver and/or Dave Brubeck. The buoyant musical theme is nimbly stated by a horn line reminiscent of Silver's bands and the song's sly sophistication is an evocative reminder of Brubeck. The song is flush with tremendous solos by Barcomb, Bellino, and Cohen. It is rhapsodic and probably one of the stronger tunes on the CD.
"Spring Forward," a piano trio, is next on the agenda. Although I did not find the composition or the melody compelling, it certainly provided a marvelous platform for Cohen to unleash his extraordinary gifts. Though the gravity of the composition is debatable, I submit that Cohen's improvisational ornamentation lent splendidly to the song's texture and coloring.
Apparently Simon favors Latin rhythms. On "Reach For It," he leans on a bossa nova to support his arousing melody. The song has a great theme and is ripped with magnificent harmonies and strong improvisational work from Barcomb and Bellino.
"Yellow Stone" is clearly a tip of the hat to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." This seven-minute romp is one of the strongest musical statements yet. Barcomb, on soprano sax this time, and Cohen's accented phrasing serve as enchanted counterpoints. Once again Cohen shines ever so brightly but does not overshadow Barcomb's purposeful contribution. The song is light, jovial, and alluring.
Guitarist Muscatello spearheads the engaging melodic motif of "Empty Nest." The motif is ennoble and contemplative, and the harmonic dialogue sublime. There is great interaction between Muscatello and Cohen, conjuring up the wondrous sound of Pat Metheny and Lyle May. Danny Whelchel's brush work is steady. I assure the reader that you will savor this cut.
Changing the modalities slightly, Simon gives an ostensible nod to those tremendous horn driven groups of the 60s ( say Art Blakey's, Lee Morgan's, Herbie Hancock's groups) with his piece, "On the Lark," the obvious muse being Albany's Lark Street. This is a catchy tune, grand horn charts, and it swings too. Mike DelPrete anchors the song with panache and Barcomb delivers another exceptional performance on tenor.
As most of the songs incline to be up tempo, "Clean Up" may be one of the liveliest and playful. Showcased is Muscatello's fine fret work, and I swear that he is channeling Pat Metheny. Barcomb, Cohen, and the rhythm section are equally exuberant.
The recording closes with a meditative "Woodland." After listening to the three previous spirited cuts, 'Woodland" seemed out of kilter and a tad too banal. Maybe because of the pacing and either its plaintiveness or banality, it felt as if the musicians were sight reading. This selection just did not register with me.
The last song notwithstanding, "Awakening" is a solid CD, one that any composer would be proud to have released.
Randy Treece is an avid and ubiquitous fan of jazz music, especially on the local scene. For many years he has contributed jazz artist reviews for "A Place For Jazz" and has written album reviews on request by jazz artists. Randy resides in Albany.