Monday, May 31, 2010

Sonny Simmons Stays On the Watch, 1966

When earlier in the year we spoke of the "two Sonny Simmons's" I never suggested that the first period of Sonny's work was anything but extraordinary, just that the comeback period of Simmons's music often is as well.

So in a timely way, ESP is re-releasing his first album for the label, Staying on the Watch, recorded back in 1966. What's extraordinary about this album? For one thing, the rhythm section of a young yet assured and fiery John Hicks on piano, a solid Teddy Smith on bass, and an incandescent Marvin Pattillo on drums really kicks this band through the paces. They are afire.

Second, trumpeter Barbara Donald is at a peak. She sputters and blazes brassily, adapting the hard bop of a Lee Morgan or Freddie Hubbard and taking it out in her own way. And Sonny sounds just magnificent. He and Barbara meld on the heads of the group numbers and just blaze forth. His playing by this point does not have any obvious derivatives. He has the intensity of a later Coltrane and the angularity of Ornette, but a kinetic firestorm of ideas and his hard, blistering tone make for pure Sonny.

Check out Sonny's eastern-influenced dervishness on the sax-bass duet "A Distant Voice," one of the first duets to be recorded and so a pioneering effort and a foreshadowing of many such groupings to come in the new jazz. Most importantly though it showcases a second side of Sonny's melodic approach, again wholly original and I can say without the least bit of hype or hyperbole, breathtaking.

There are an awful lot of great Sonny Simmons records. This is one of them!


  1. He is an under appreciated national treasure. He's part of a crew including Prince Lasha and Charles Davis on an Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet date from impulse that I found.

    The Coltrane/Coleman intersection observation is very astute. I always thought of him as one of the people who interweaves the outlooks of both with one of the deepest affinities for Eric Dolphy of any living artist.

  2. Thanks Chris. Yes, there are certainly affinities with Dolphy too, and a little Jackie McLean on this one also. But he found his way through those affinities without resorting to imitation. That's one of the secrets. Everybody comes out of some stylistic rootedness. The trick is to make it a part of one's OWN playing, to go beyond. Sonny sure has done that! Nice comment!