Venezuelan trumpeter Michael Simon joins the talent-spotting jazz label’s roster with a fine Latin jazz release that blends rhythmic subtlety, sharp harmony and full-blooded arrangement. The balance between stand-out ensembles and freely breathing rhythm is just right, and his writing adds lustre to the strong solos of the leader and saxophonists Miguel Zenón and Peter Brainin. Simon’s older brothers, pianist Edward and drummer Marlon, sit in a glistening rhythm section that glides from pre-arranged complexity to deft swing with a tightness and strength pulse that implies this recording was more labour of love than chance meeting.
Musicians form their artistic approaches as a direct result of the interactions that they experience within their musical community. They get ideas from performances, rehearsals, jam sessions, and everyday conversations; the concepts that musicians share within a community percolate until they evolve into defined approaches. Some musicians spend their lives within one musical community, relying upon the trust earned during long standing artistic relationships to drive their progress. Other artists reach beyond their home base, connecting with musicians from other regions through quick trips, online communication, and more. A smaller group of artists move between communities, building connections across a country, and sometimes around the world. Each of these lifestyles potentially breed interesting artistic personalities, but a network of connections with multiple communities always results in a more diverse musician with a broad perspective. These musicians simply have access to more ideas, a larger pool of perspectives to push concept development, and countless potential collaborators. Trumpet player Michael Simon holds a connection with multiple communities around the world, ranging from his own vastly musical family to New York’s Latin Jazz circles and his current home in the Netherlands - all these elements combine into a powerful collection of music on New York Encounter.
A Strong Connection To The New York Latin Jazz Community
Several pieces reflect the influence of Simon’s relationship with the New York Latin Jazz community. Pianist Edward Simon attacks his instrument with sharp percussive patterns over a songo groove on “Mi Amigo El Machinsta,” leading the way into a tightly constructed melody that weaves through rhythmic changes. Michael Simon glides over the rhythm section nimbly, dancing his mellow tone through a careful balance of jazz class and rhythmic fire. The rhythm section lowers its dynamic behind alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who carefully develops his ideas with repetition before building his improvisation into a frenzy. Percussionist Roberto Quintero’s güiro keeps a steady groove behind Edward Simon’s seven beat montuno on “Sabor Íntimo” before the melody steers the rhythm section towards a combination of standard and odd time signatures. Michael Simon travels through the changing structure with a bluesy class, delivering an interesting statement with a hard bop edge. Edward Simon creates a quick contrast with a lush statement overflowing with elegance, finding his way into a nine beat montuno behind Quintero’s conga solo. The wind players race through a series of sharp rhythm section attacks on “New York Encounter” working into a melody that bounces around the group’s funky songo groove with a infectious energy. Bassist Boris Kozlov grabs the group’s energy and flies with an engaging improvisation that wraps melodies into angular rhythmic ideas. The group explodes into an exciting forward motion as tenor saxophonist Peter Brainin aggressively charges through the chord changes with clear melodic ideas and syncopated rhythms. These piece capture Michael Simon’s relationship with the New York Latin Jazz world, placing his compositional and performance voice into a mix of hard bop and Afro-Cuban energy.
Contributions From Edward Simon
Simon’s brother Edward contributes two pieces that inspire another side of the trumpet player both as a performer and leader. A series of brash syncopated attacks give way to an askew bass line that creates an addictively funky feel over a son montuno groove on “Fiestas” while the wind players trade mysterious phrases with the piano. Michael Simon uses space and thoughtful phrasing to develop a smart improvisation that reveals shades of influence from late Miles Davis. Both Brainin and Zenón start interjecting complementary ideas and Marlon Simon flies into an uptempo swing rhythm, as the band climaxes into a collective improvisation. The wind players introduce a dramatic series of notes as Edward Simon falls into a meditative vamp on “Equanimity” while Michael Simon floats an airy melody over the serene backdrop. Zenón joins Simon in long, harmonized lines until the two musicians move into a gentle call and response. The rhythm section rides the hypnotic vamp with an engaging sense of dynamics that push the intertwining lines from the wind players into a powerful wall of sound. These pieces show Michael Simon’s connection to his brother Edward’s musical approach, driving a contemplative and experimental side to the trumpet player.
Diverse Sides To Simon’s Musicianship
Michael Simon reveals a personal side to his musicianship with several pieces that explore a variety of influences. The wind players take quick stabbing attacks at the harmony before the rhythm section moves into a swing backdrop on “Blues Del Silencio Frio” for a twisting melody. Edward Simon displays some serious jazz chops as he spins a propulsive blues solo over the hard swing, mixing elements of traditional phrases and modern harmony. The rhythm section disappears as Michael Simon and Zenón trade freely structured ideas, relying upon tension to build back into a full band sound and an attention grabbing solo from drummer Marlon Simon. A dramatic introduction from the wind players explodes into an improvised and coloristic accompaniment from the rhythm section on the long scale piece “House Of Thoughs,” making a transition into a melody over a driving cha cha cha. The group ends the melody with an Afro-Venezuelan parranda, setting the stage for a brilliantly constructed improvisation from Edward Simon, full of sharp melodic edges and running melodies. A brief interlude sends the group back into a cha cha cha as Brainin slips around the groove, driving jazz infused melodies into a screaming conclusion. A richly harmonized chordal passage gives way to a Venezuelan culo e’puya rhythm on “Joy Is Within” as a beautifully understated melody glides over colorful chords. Edward Simon sounds completely comfortable within the rhythmic structure, darting around the edges of the rhythm while weaving clever melodies through the harmony. Trombonist Noah Bless inserts a blend of drama and forward motion into a smart improvisation that captures the song’s contagious spirit. These pieces show the diverse sides of Michael Simon’s musical interests, revealing some unique elements that complete his personal voice.
A Powerful Connection To Musical Communities
New York Encounter displays a broad swatch of Simon’s musical abilities, bringing together all the influences of his community connections. The different pieces of this puzzle are most apparent in Simon’s compositions, which reflect a broad artistic viewpoint. Simon weaves together various musical elements including Afro-Cuban and Afro-Venezuelan styles, odd time signatures and free improvisation, as well as straight-ahead swing and extended improvisations. The seamless integration of these pieces reflect a mature musical mind with a wealth of experience. The inclusion of Simon’s brothers - pianist Edward and drummer Marlon - creates a comfortable environment that resonates with endless possibilities. There’s a sympathetic interaction in the group’s performance that only arises from a lifetime’s worth of shared musical experiences. The addition of some of New York’s best musicians inject the recording with an authentic jazz edge and an inspired sound. Bassist Andy Gonzalez and Kozlov, saxophonists Zenón and Brainin, as well as percussionist Quintero all represent a piece of New York’s long connection to Latin Jazz, a direction that bursts through the album with resounding clarity. The potent brew resulting from Simon’s connection to these various communities flows through New York Encounter with a unified strength, giving us an idea of the powerful contribution that Simon’s music can give back to Latin Jazz communities around the world.