I first became aware of Ken Simon’s (NYC, 1948) music back in 1982 when he began sending me tapes with an eye to putting something out on Cadence Jazz Records. Immediately I was impressed by the energy of the music and conveyed that to Ken. Even so, I felt the music lacked its own identifiable dynamic and I conveyed that to Ken as well. Ken kept sending tapes but my ambivalence remained and eventually we continued to sing our same respective songs into frustration, annoyance and, eventually, silence. But I never forgot Ken and the potential I felt had never been focused, realized or documented. Then, around 1997, Ken again began sending me tapes and I, with some apprehension, again conveyed my ambivalence, though with qualification. Now the music was more than the sum of its energy. There were signs of form and focus to complement the visceral strengths and together we went through a process that culminated in The Twilight of Time (Cadence Jazz Records 1082), a trio (Vattel Cherry & David Pleasant) recording of 5 of Ken’s originals and his first led session (a co-led session from 1983 with percussionist Abbey Rader on Abray Records was previously issued). It’s a vital session and one which I felt, finally, properly presented the essence of Ken Simon. Privately I doubted I’d be involved with more as I felt essentially this was Ken Simon and I’m more interested in giving voice to new or underexposed facets than in repeating what already has been successfully established.
In 1999 Ken sent me tapes from a tour of Scandinavia and they showcased a much more inside player. His almost apologetic explanation was that, since he was using local rhythm sections who were not familiar with his music, he accommodated the situation by playing standards. My reaction was I thought it not only presented another perspective of Ken’s work but that the music, even though referencing familiar material, was delivered with a remarkable originality and freshness and overall appeal. And so we began preparations to present another side of Ken Simon and this concert is the result.
Barry Altschul (NYC, 1943) arrived in the early afternoon, set up his drums, acclimated himself, and rested in preparation. Ken, Jorge Sylvester (Colon, Panama, 1953), and Greg Maker (NYC, 1951) arrived in the early evening. Dinner was relaxed, followed by the sound check, a bit of playing and off to bed.
Aside from Barry, who by the late ‘70s was one of the premier Free Bop drummers on the New Music scene (along with being a member of the Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers groups, and a founding member of the group Circle), the individual members of this group, while veterans on the improvised music scene, are relatively undocumented on recordings. Greg, an active musician since the early ‘70s, can be heard on recordings with Billy Harper, Sam Rivers, and Lonnie Liston Smith. Jorge’s first recordings were made in Spain in the mid ‘80s with a group he co-led with Miguel Chastang, while in the U.S. he’s led recordings on J&N and Postcard Records. At a time when everyone seems to be recording, ready or not, it’s easy to confuse quantity with quality. Discerning ears will tell you different and proliferation is no more an indication of value than obscurity is an indication of lack of value.
This session brought together various qualities of wisdom and freshness, the familiar and the unfamiliar, and the aim was to let those strengths, albeit divergent, come together not as wedges in the proceedings but to form a bond, in their diversity and strength. And it took some time for the various perspectives of the individuals to come out and be co-opted compatibly into a whole. That, along with the number of different configurations while attempting to achieve optimal audio placement, defeated take after take. All of which was particularly frustrating to me because the music was never less than strong. Catching lightning in a bottle is not easy. The explosion of inventiveness and the coordination of it into art doesn’t wait, whether the mortal world is ready or not. Fortunately the muse held strong and, by 10:30 a.m. on the next day, we mortals got all our needs coordinated. The group hit with Sun-Modes, the elements were charged and the best of creative energies were released. How released? Well, Syeeda’s Song Flute immediately followed and you can hear the unleashing of the spirits. Jorge felt he was less than perfect on the melody but the room was charged and Barry’s immediate response, in defense of the take, was “mistakes are the start of new conceptions.” “Syeeda’s” explodes on the mark, subjectively perfect.
After “Syeeda’s” we did just 5 more takes; with one exception, all of them issuable. Ken had more in reserve, but we already had more than we needed and I called the session to an end.
If the body’s able and the spirit’s willing, the magic can happen if you let it. Play on.
Robert D. Rusch – 2/22/00