Pianist and composer Edward Simon is a Latin jazz musician, though not necessarily in the way that term traditionally suggests. The hyphen of his Afro-Latin hybrid conjoins the distinctively modern strain of post-bop common to his generation of jazz musicians with a studied take on the folkloric music of his native Venezuela. The Ed Simon Quartet demonstrates this cross-pollination in a live performance at the Village Vanguard, featuring the return of critically lauded tenor saxophonist Mark Turner from a freak hand injury once feared to be debilitating.
The night began with one of Turner's pieces, and his sinuous, flexible lines remained front and center throughout the set. But it was Simon driving the show, not only with rigorously crafted piano solos, but also by calling a set of tunes that showed off the band in vintage form. Several of the compositions came from the 1995 album Edward Simon — which Simon says will soon be reissued — while the closing number was the title track on 1998's La Bikina. Several pieces ("Alma Llanera," "La Bikina") were based on Venezuelan folk songs, though only those natively familiar with the melodies would likely have recognized them in their contemporary jazz guise.
Simon first came to the U.S. to study classical and jazz performance; apprenticeships with jazz musicians of all stripes inspired his rediscovery of Venezuelan melodies. He emerged as a leader in the mid-1990s, primarily through the work of his small groups, especially his piano-led trios. Mark Turner and Dave Binney (who made a cameo appearance on soprano sax) have proven to be close associates of Simon throughout that period, as well.
Simon has released well-received recordings at a constant clip, and more are on the way: A new album, Poesia, is due out shortly, and he's also working on an album of boleros with vocalist Leonardo Granados through the ArtistShare funding system. In 2006, Simon also premiered the Chamber Music America-commissioned "Venezuelan Suite," a group of songs based on Venezuelan patterns and rhythms, accompanied by the abstract paintings of Ellen Priest. Simon and Turner have previously appeared on WBGO and NPR Music's Live at the Village Vanguard broadcast recordings, backing up guitarist Adam Rogers in the first installment of the series.
- "Mesa" (Turner)
- "Alma Llanera Pt. 1" (Pedro Elias Gutierrez)
- "Alma Llanera Pt. 2" (Pedro Elias Gutierrez)
- "Colega" (Simon)
- "La Bikina" (Ruben Fuentes Gasson) (feat. Dave Binney)
- Edward Simon, piano
- Ben Street, bass
- Adam Cruz, drums
- Mark Turner, tenor saxophone
- Josh Jackson, producer and host
- David Tallacksen, mix engineer
- Josh Webb, recording assistant