STRAYHORN: Lush Life. MONK: Monk’s Dream. Monk’s Mood. SIMON: Country. GERSHWIN-HEYWARD: I Loves You, Porgy / Edward Simon, pno / Ridgeway Records (no number) (live: Oakland, July 27, 2019)
Venezuelan-born pianist Edward Simon has been gigging around for the past 25 years, but this is his first unaccompanied solo recording. In it, he presents a relatively short (37-minute) jazz recital featuring one of his own pieces, one each by Strayhorn and Gershwin and two by Thelonious Monk. Anyone who plays Monk is in my corner!
By and large, Simon is a lyrical pianist with a light touch. He uses some interesting chord positions in his playing without going too far outside to startle less sophisticated listeners; in Lush Life, he approaches the music as a sort of piano fantasia, giving it an out-of-tempo introduction before moving into a nice rocking sort of beat. Thus his work is subtler than that of many pianists without losing a feeling for jazz rhythm.
And thankfully, he “gets” Monk’s odd, angular style perfectly. In both Monk’s Dream and Monk’s Mood, you’d almost think you were listening to the original when he plays them, which is a small miracle. (Too many modern pianists “smooth out” Monk’s angular style too much.)
His own piece, Country, combines a bit of Strayhorn with a bit of Monk though the tune is a completely original one, based on a modal harmonic base and full of interesting little rhythmic touches. Even in the improvised solo portion, he toys with the rhythm in an interesting way, thus holding one’s interest in spite of the somewhat monotonous harmony. In one chorus, it’s the bass line that improvises while the right hand plays steady ostinato chords.
Simon plays I Loves You, Porgy in a slow, out-of-tempo ballad style, something I don’t much care for, but in this brief exposure to him I particularly liked the way he played Monk. Worth hearing at least once.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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