Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sonny Simmons - Last Man Standing (Jazzaway, 2007)

Veteran alto saxophonist and composer Sonny Simmons has found a stable home in the Norwegian label Jazzaway who have produced his past three albums. This, the final in a loose trilogy is a straight quartet session where Simmons is joined by Anders Aarum on piano, Mats Eilertsen on bass, Torstein Lofthus and Ole-Thomas Kolberg alternating on drums. Simmons is definately in charge here and his deep stentorian tone permeates all of the music. The music has dark melodies which have a start-stop feel giving a fractured momentum to the opening tracks "Call to Order" and "Ancient Ritual", a song that moves into chaotic, nearly free playing at times. Simmons is not often noted as a ballad player but there are a couple of good examples of his prowess with slower tempos on this disc. "La Benedectina" and "Theme For Ernie" find the group toning down the volume and allowing the alto saxophone to shine through with an abstract yearning, like a sunbeam splitting clouds. The highlight of the session is the epic near 16 minute "Black Gardenia" which opens with studio chatter and then finds Simmons dancing and jabbing like a boxer looking for an opening. The trio gets a fine interlude of its own before Sonny re-enters with a thoughtful and controlled solo to end a very impressive performance. Despite his talent, Simmons has had an up and down career that is the very definition of the jazz journeyman. This album and the preceding two he recorded in Norway along with his participation in the collective group The Cosmosamatics prove that there is a lot of music left in this veteran musician.

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