If your Latin jazz collection centers mainly around styles from Cuba and Brazil, pianist Edward Simon would like you to consider expanding your library to include musical influences from a culturally diverse land geographically situated between those two countries – namely Venezuela, where he was born and lived until the age of 12. Simon is an acclaimed post-bop and modern creative jazz pianist in his adopted country of the United States, and while Latin American elements have certainly seasoned his recorded output to date, this 2014 Sunnyside release finds him focusing more intently than ever on the nexus between creative jazz and the folk music of his home country. The album's title is derived from "Venezuelan Suite," whose four parts fill over 28 minutes of the disc's concise 38-minute duration. Simon composed the suite for his Ensemble Venezuela, and the ten-member version of the group heard here – including musicians from the U.S., Venezuela, and Colombia – is wonderfully vibrant, ably fulfilling the pianist's creative intent. Chamber Music America commissioned Simon to write this work, and he rose to the challenge with music that is suitably rich with timbral and textural variety.
If this is blues, it's blues in the Billie Holiday sense, not the Muddy Waters one. This is one of Nina Simone's more subdued mid-'60s LPs, putting the emphasis on her piano rather than band arrangements. It's rather slanted toward torch-blues ballads like "Strange Fruit," "Trouble in Mind," Billie Holiday's own composition "Tell Me More and More and Then Some," and "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." Simone's then-husband, Andy Stroud, wrote "Be My Husband," an effective adaptation of a traditional blues chant. By far the most impressive track is her frantic ten-minute rendition of the traditional "Sinnerman," an explosive tour de force that dwarfs everything else on the album.
How convenient for all of Max Reger's music for clarinet and piano to fit on a single disc–or, better still, to have all of it presented in excellent performances!