June 2008

Philadelphia Art Alliance251 S. 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA Map
Price: $12 General Admission
Saturday, June 14, 2008 - 8:00pm

Sonny Simmons + Bobby Few

Sonny Simmons, alto saxophone
Bobby Few , piano

Altoist Sonny Simmons made a number of striking albums in the 1960's. Born in 1933, he was already a well-traveled Parkerian and a signaled innovator on the West Coast when he first came to national attention in 1963 with his debut recording The Cry! (with the Prince Lasha Quintet on Contemporary), live appearances in NYC with Sonny Rollins, and sessions with Eric Dolphy (for whom he wrote the standard, "Music Matador") and Coltrane's rhythm section (Illumination!, on Impulse).

Though not a die-hard avant-gardist (like Ornette Coleman and Jimmy Lyons and other alto sax luminaries from the same generation, he sticks in his own provocative way to the tradition), he was then a leading figure of the Free Jazz scene in NYC with his wife Barbara Donald, cutting legendary records for ESP in 1966, Staying On The Watch and Music From The Spheres. Back in California, he made an acclaimed appearance at the Jazz Symposyum in Berkeley (1969). He became an underground hero with the likes of Bert Wilson, James Zitro, Smiley Winters and producer James Bronson Jr. The period also provided landmark records for Arhoolie (Manhattan Egos) and Contemporary (Firebirds, Rumasuma, Burning Spirits), which met international response.

Then - nothing. Sonny Simmons suffered a spectacular eclipse during the 1970s and the 1980s. With the West Coast no longer providing work, family and personal problems, his career collapsed. He ended up in the streets. Playing kept him alive, and he managed to maintain working groups throughout most of this "lost period," producing hours of incredible music (which are still to be released: check out the rare documented traces of this activity, Backwoods Suite, Global Jungle and the solo tour-de-force, Jewels, to make sure his musical powers remained untouched).

Accordingly, his come-back had to be spectacular, too. He began to build a local reputation again. Word-of-mouth, helping souls and hard work made the rest and by the time he went to Europe (1994), he had an album on Warner, Ancient Ritual. Actually, the title he had first chosen says it all : Reincarnation. He made a strong impression in festivals (Montreal, Moers, Willisau, Helsinki...), on record (American Jungle, Warner; Judgment Day, CIMP), and appeared at the Iridium and the Knitting Factory. With his alter-ego, Michael Marcus, he founded the Cosmosamatics, a group with which he enjoys the greatest of achievements. Hugely popular in Europe, where they tour frequently, they have recorded seven albums, building one of the most distinctive sounds nowadays. The next album, Free Within The Law, is due for release on Not Two in March of 2007.

He also led varied projects of his own, ranging from a classy quintet date for Marge, Myxolydis, to a mammoth sextet with Anthony Braxton and another group, the Renegade Society, both resurrecting the "ol' free jazz" feel. Many gems pave his new way: further solo tapestries (Out Into The Andromeda, Live At Rive De Gier), a magical evocation of the powers of eastern musical idioms (Tales Of The Ancient East), an up-to-date association with noise wizard Jeff Shurdut (The Future Is Ancient, Zebulon 1), and an atmospheric masterpiece full of strings, scorching alto lines and sunsets (The Traveler). The latter association with Jazzaway records also provided a bare-to-the-bone collection of duets, I'll See You When You Get There, and a lavish collaboration with the Svein Olav Herstad trio, Live at Haugesund.

In the early 1960's, urged by Albert Ayler, Bobby Few went to New York. There, he made his first recordings with Booker Ervin The In Between (Blue Note) and with Albert Ayler entitled Music Is The Healing Force of the Universe (Impulse). He performed with Brook Benton, a rhythm and blues singer, with whom he toured the world, later becoming Benton's musical director. Then, concert after concert, Bobby Few worked with many prestigious artists such as Archie Shepp, Kenny Clarke, Frank Wright, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Sunny Murray, Roland Kirk, Nat Adderley, Frank Foster, David Murray, Bill Dixon, Albert Ayler and Steve Lacy, with whom he toured the world from 1980 until 1992. Since 2001, he has been touring with American saxophonist, Avram Fefer, with whom he has recorded four critically-acclaimed CDs.