...the term "traditional" is not normally applied to free jazz, but Simmons...
Bill Tilland 2002-11-20
A free jazz supergroup of sorts, the Cosmosamatics feature the horns of Sonny Simmons and Michael Marcus, the rhythm section of bassist William Parker and drummer Jay Rosen, plus a few guest artists, most significantly James Carter, who plays bass sax on two of the CD's five tracks. Simmons goes back a long way, and is one of the few active jazz musicians who recorded for the celebrated and notorious ESP label in the mid-1960's, while Marcus, Rosen and Carter are the young Turks, full of fire and enthusiasm. The powerful, rock solid Parker is something of a bridge between the generations. Not quite one of the pioneers himself, Parker has nonetheless studied with Coltrane's bassist, Jimmy Garrison, played with Cecil Taylor, and has been the bassist of choice for most of the leading NYC free jazz players in the 1990's and beyond.
The term "traditional" is not normally applied to free jazz, but Simmons incorporates some bop and even swing elements into his writing and playing on this CD. Also, all five pieces open and close with melodic themes that feature tight, well-played ensemble work. Of course, once the themes are out of the way, freedom reigns, but the playing is by no means chaotic or undisciplined. The first piece ("Quasar") is kicked into gear by a deep, throbbing bass figure from Parker and syncopated rim shots from Rosen, reminiscent of Garrison and Elvin Jones in the classic Coltrane quartet. Simmons' alto dominates on this piece, and he reveals a certain lightness of touch, with more than a hint of Ornette Coleman's bluesy angularity.
The ballad "Near" shows off some abstract but lyrical playing by Simmons and Marcus, as if they were somehow channeling the spirits of Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves. "Beyond the Inner East" strikes the only false note, with its use of tabla and bassoon, and a heavily modal solo from Simmons on English Horn. It's quite pleasant, but seems a little too self-consciously Eastern, especially in the context of the four other pieces. However, it does demonstrate Simmons' impressive command of an instrument rarely heard in jazz, which sounds like a slightly deeper and richer soprano saxophone. In another context, I'd like to hear more from Simmons on this instrument.
The final piece, "New Line Groove," is a return to style and form. Arguably the best piece on the CD, it plunges right into a collective improvisation from the three horns after three brief repetitions of the simple theme, and then follows with the three individual statements from the horns, all played with considerable conviction. Marcus takes his best solo on this piece, although Carter's solo is again the most "outside," sounding at times like an 800 lb. bumblebee trying to achieve liftoff. Simmons also has a characteristically fine solo, displaying free jazz roots that are firmly anchored in the music of both Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman.