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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sonny Simmons - Tales Of The Ancient East/For Ustad Bismillah Khan (Parralactic 39 & 40, 2002) ****

This is an exceptional album, one you have to hear if you like world jazz. Sonny Simmons leads us on a spiritual and musical journey that is as repetitive as it is exciting, and the whole is impressive. I have listened to it many times and I'm still not able to distinguish one piece from the other, but that's irrelevant, and I think it adds to the overall hypnotic trance-inducing effect (not that I'm prostrated on the floor all shaking and rolling with my eyes, but close). The harmonium and synthesizer of Rosie Shakarian give a deep droning background, with Brian Glick's bass clarinet following them in the deep undertones, once in a while adding accents, and on top of that Sonny Simmons soloes on English horn, a deep-sounding oboe, an unusual instrument, which he plays in the Arabic scale and in combination with the deep sound, this creates a very sad and moaning tone. Brandon Evans adds some relief with his flute and Indische shenai (the instrument used by snake charmers). Once in a while there's some Arabic chanting, the only percussion is the odd tongue-slapping by the clarinetists. In short, a unique musical concept, repeated in every piece, gives of course a strong coherence to this album, which is, believe me, strong.