Sonny Simmons & Sunny Murray | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sonny Simmons & Sunny Murray 

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SONNY SIMMONS & SUNNY MURRAY

When he retired from music in the 1970s, the adventurous and soulful saxist Sonny Simmons had left little impact on jazz: some work with the equally obscure Prince Lasha, one recording with John Coltrane's drummer Elvin Jones, a couple of sessions on which he backed Eric Dolphy. So when he suddenly reappeared four years ago--and on Qwest, the label owned by mainstream maven Quincy Jones--no one knew what to expect. But the album, Ancient Ritual, was a searing, slashing depiction of a mature yet still fiery improviser--a fresh "new" voice, indebted to Ornette Coleman and thus welcomed by younger listeners just discovering the free jazz of the late 60s. Simmons's follow-up disc, last year's American Jungle, pays off another debt: it honors Coltrane with a quartet patterned after the great tenor saxist's classic mid-60s band and a version of "My Favorite Things," which Coltrane remade into a potent jazz vehicle. What's more, Trane's fertile interplay with drummer Rashied Ali, immortalized on his penultimate recording, Interstellar Space, provides the model for Simmons's duets with skinsman Sunny Murray on this tour. Murray's credentials as a free-jazz player predate even Coltrane's: his work with Cecil Taylor in the late 50s and oracular saxophonist Albert Ayler in the early 60s established him as the very first free-jazz drummer, the man who dared to jettison all the old ideas about how to swing. In their place Murray created an elastic, episodic, asymmetrical series of pulses that blew out the walls around both jazz drummers and jazz drumming. More amazing, some of these blasts were remarkably gentle, even feathery, which made Murray an icon among the free-jazz faithful--especially in Chicago's own AACM, where drummers Steve McCall and Philip Wilson were quick to emulate him. Thursday, June 11, 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Sonny Simmons photo by Geraldine Postel.

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