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At 5:19 into the first cut, Simmons’s alto and Barbara Donald's trumpet hit a huge skidding smear — a show-off driver on a slick road, hopped up maybe, hits the brake and the gas at once, giving him/her/self to providence, should such reach down. And "Metamorphosis" swirls away into a bowed-bass solo from Teddy Smith. Crisis averted. Or maybe the whole shebang rolled over politely into a modest ditch.

I'd never heard Simmons with his then-partner Donald before. Maybe it's youth, maybe it's freshness less related to youth, but she lifts him and he lifts her, and Teddy Smith and pianist John Hicks and drummer Marvin Pattillo contribute to a systematic study in how you can go up to the line, step on the line, press on the line until it starts to hurt, then back up to safety's edge, jump off the boxcar before it picks up freeway speed on its way to Shreveport.

Smith's bass solos always sound like a true, wise friend giving you the best advice. And "A Distant Voice," a duet between Simmons and Smith, points up the Egyptian sonorities the saxophonist would squeeze even harder on subsequent records (to the point of taking up the English horn for its exotic, nasal quality). Hicks bubbles. The sadly obscure Pattillo knows when to knock on doors and when to knock down walls. Noisy but not the noisiest, and rewarding in its depth, here's free jazz for inspired palettes.

  • Album: Staying on the Watch (1966; reissued 2010)
  • Artist: Sonny Simmons
  • Label: ESP-Disk
  • Songs: (1) Metamorphosis (2) A Distant Voice (3) City of David (4) Interplanetary Travelers
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Mary Leary Dec. 11, 2010 @ 10:53 a.m.

Well-expressed! Never heard of 'em, but then you & my pal Rex Butters are much further into the free jazz channel than I, who still gets excited by hard bop. Trains rock.


Russ Lewis Dec. 11, 2010 @ 11:44 a.m.

Amazingly well written, Hamlin. That plus the fact that it's 1966-vintage ESP free jazz makes me want to hear this record.


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