RANDY SIMON JAZZ PROJECT
by Randy Treece
Randy Simon has earned the distinction of being a prodigious composer and producer. Nyhavn Live is his fourth release within a decade. Nyhavn Live is a double CD production with eleven original songs recorded live at the Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, New York. Harkening back to my review of his 2009 release, Awakening, I continue to marvel as to how this physicist has applied the tools of his vocation to his avocation as a jazz composer. It should not come as a surprise since music and math are playmates in the cauldron of sound creation. Obviously, time, rhythm and meter sway handsomely to math, but the concept of pitch, harmonics and chords have long been considered fundamental offshoots of physics. All that needs to be added is ample portion of creativity. Once again, this physicists has woven the membranes of scientific analysis and empiricism into synthesized creative music worthy of our attention.
If you are not familiar with Simon’s compositions, eschew, if you will, any stereotypical notion of a formidable intellect, whose brain explodes with theories and postulations, creating only music that is idiosyncratic, geometrically unrestrained or particularly angular, such as that written by pianist Vijay Iyler, or avant garde in its venture as stated by Anthony Braxton or Cecil Taylor. Rather conjure, again if you will, a writer who has rooted himself within the sphere of hard bop and who has a special knack for memorable melodies and themes, robust rhythms and tempos, and eclectic harmonies. Nyhavn, his muse for this production, is a 17th Century waterfront canal and entertainment district in Copenhagen. So, in this respect, this recording is a “heritage harbor” of the great hard bop era of the 1960s and 1970s, with its rich melodic motifs that swing. Although all of the tunes are Simon’s originals, as the liner notes indicate, Simon relied significantly upon the musical vision of pianist Rob Linquist who provided his imprint on both the harmonies and the rhythms of the compositions. Other ideas were contributed by saxophonist Kevin Barcomb and trumpeter Dylan Canterbury, particularly with regards to the horn arrangements, rendering this production a greater corroborative package than the moniker the Randy Simon Jazz Project may suggest. Yet, a listener cannot ignore that Simon produced this recording on his own label. Overall, the songs are rapturous and many of the melodies will gleefully reverberate in your head.
This top notch band is a horn fronted quintet akin to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers or even a Horace Silver’s band. You cannot ask for a better rhythm section than John Mengeon, on bass, and Danny Whelchel, on drums, and for that reason, Simon has repeatedly called upon them for most of his recordings. They remain in the pocket and firmly anchor each of the eleven songs. Rob Lindquist has garnered an undisputed reputation as an exceptional pianist in the Capital District Region, and, yes, he deserves wider recognition. Lindquist possesses superb sensibilities and touch and can swing with the best of them. After listening to Kevin Barcomb on both the Awakening and Nyhavn Live, I have become enamored with his warm and lush tone and the alluring texture of his solos. On each of his solos, he never misses the mark. Dylan Canterbury, on trumpet, is the youngest member of the group. On the opening selection, Cultural Exchange, initially I did not think his solo was as well-developed as Barcomb’s, but as the recording progresses, so does the quality of Canterbury’s solos. The articulation of ideas and his sound become more clear and precise, and on the ballads or slower tempo songs, Season to Taste, Foothills, and Soaring, he becomes even evocative.
The first tune, Cultural Exchange, is a wonderful way to jump start an album. You can keenly hear the Afro-Cuban influence in the texture of the song and the horns’ palpable interplay - imagine Hank Mobley and Kenny Dorham. Lindquist remarkably projects the influences of McCoy Tyner. Gold Standard is yet another fetching bop tune, with wonderful solos from John Menegon, Barcomb, and Canterbury, who sounds a little like a young Freddie Hubbard. Redolent of that bygone hard bop era is Glide, where both Simon, with his composition, and Lindquist, in his playing, tip their chapeaus to the ever impressive composer and pianist Horace Silver. Like icing on the cake, Lindquist additionally delivers a magnificent cluster of chords reminiscent of the fabled Errol Garner. Also present are tantalizing solos from Barcomb, who on this cut sounds like Joe Henderson, and Canterbury, as well as Danny Whelchel displaying his ample percussion wares.
Simon has a penchant for Latin rhythms, particularly Bossa Nova and samba beats. The most gleeful tune on this recording is Season to Taste, hewing closely to the tradition of hard bop with a mirthful horn recitation of the theme, propelled by an engaging rhythm that swings mightily. Barcomb soars onto the scene with a solo that bubbles with buoyancy and enthusiasm, probably his grandest yet on this recording, and Lindquist matches it with an equally exuberant solo. Climber is samba-like and quite euphonic. Menegon renders an attention-grabbing solo and again, Barcomb furnishes an arresting solo. Another Interlude is in a similar vein, a vibrant romp with inventive execution by Lindquist and Barcomb.
Questions commences as a soft-pedaled melody with Barcomb on soprano sax and Canterbury employing a muted trumpet. But the tender affectations evaporates as the pace of the song eventually erupts into a near gallop, spurred on by Menegon, Whelchel, and Lindquist. At this juncture Canterbury shines with a flurries of notes and a burst of ideas, matched in intensity and erudition by Lindquist’s performance.
Foothills is a catchy bluesy song with an infectious swinging beat that will have you tapping your foot and nodding your head. The title song, Nyhavn, is a mellifluous waltz that features Lindquist and Menegon. And, the live
recording closes with a charming, jaunting selection, Keep Walking.
This is another outstanding excursion for Simon’s compositions into that wonderful cultural harbor we adorn as hard bop. The musicians should be applauded as well for contributing appealing ornamentation to Simon’s canopy of sounds. I would not be surprised if another jazz group searching for vibrant songs to interpret decided to cover any of this fertile yield. Each song stands on firm musical terra firma.
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