|If I'll See You When You Get There will sound familiar to the dedicated followers of Sonny Simmons, it might come as a bit of a surprise to the others. Our man is known to excel in the duet form on stage, but his recorded body of works hasn't provided much to prove it, whereas his discography is paved with absolutely brilliant testimonies of his solo prowess. Besides a fairly good album with Brandon Evans, the (sadly not-yet released) original soundtrack for Jours Tranquilles A Sarajevo (a collaboration with pianist Gilbert Sigrist, who gave a very european, post-Satie feel to typical Simmons schemes like Aboriginal Dance In Scotland) and the outstanding collaboration with Jeff Shurdut, The Future Is Ancient, there are only four evidences, but all of great significance: the legendary Seven Dances Of Salome on Manhattan Egos, featuring the trademark English horn against Juma Sultan's congo drums; another confrontation with the percussions, this time with Charles Moffett, the breathless Lost Village Of Um' Tombey on Transcendence; and, as far as bass-saxophone duets are concerned, two coincidently titled Duet tracks on Global Jungle (with Freddie Williams: free mood) and The Traveller, the latter giving a taste of the material we are now discussing.
I don't know much about Mats Eilertsen (who shares duties on 6 tracks - just to indicate the main color of the album), Anders Aarum and Ole Thomas Kolberg, but for sure Jon Klette is a man of taste: he couldn't have chosen musicians more apt to respond to Sonny, rather than to stick to the sideman's position, merely enhancing the solos. The same interaction caught at work on The Traveller and its multi-layered arrangements is to be found in the bare beauty of the duo context, arguably one of the more challenging contexts in jazz. Wrapped in Klette's lush production, this is Sonny Simmons at its simplest, its most cohesive, a man in complete control of his music, ultimately facing and forcing the young musicians to give their all - revealing in them a cleverness, a lavishness unparalleled.
I'll See You When You Get There features eight originals and two standards intimately related to Sonny Simmons' comprehension of jazz. He has written a very coherent body of new compositions, with the concern of giving a retrospective vision (retrospective does not mean conservative) of his music, a trend initiated with the inclusion of Parker and Dolphy in the Cosmosamatic's répertoire since 2004 and pursued with A True Life Drama. In a sense, I'll See You When You Get There is the long-awaited Best Of Sonny Simmons, but, instead of a sad glance into a dusty museum, you get a fresh approach, new angles, and a sense of direction. The album kicks off with a slow snake-charmer: Ancient City Of Petra, reminiscent of Tales Of The Ancient East and Bizarre Beauty. Mats Eleirtseen's bass blends beautifully with the sinuous, scarce alto lines uttered by the master of ceremony. Most of the record displays meticulous progressions at slow tempo around themes that Sonny has kept churning and churning for years, ballades and end-of-the-evening standards (Tenderly, 'Round Midnight - Sonny, complimented for the magical rendion of the latter, answers in a grin: "I've seen midnights, you dig?"). On most of the tracks Mats Eilertsen infuses a mellowness, lays pillars of bass for Simmons to draw the listener into an uninterrupted inner conversation (Close Encounters); at the same time he manages to be a second voice and more than often directs the improvisation, throwing Simmons into new ideas and feelings. There is definitely an emphasis on melody, no sing-song, but the roots of bebop as he experienced it in the 40's : a theme you can catch all the better than its treatment will lead you elsewhere. Mellowness doesn't imply that Sonny Simmons has lost his edge. The percussive tracks here are milestones : Fancy Free says all, and Carebian Fiesta and its sunny carribean tropisms is a clear invitation to bodily interaction with the music. Music to dance to, ballads to do what you usually do on ballads, let love flow, this is still Sonny Simmons, a very physical man : only he has subdued the superhuman, aggressive manner of his ESP masterpieces or Burning Spirits, leaving us with a cooperative, rather than confrontational, energy, well reflected by his fellow duelists. And this is why this record will sound both familiar and surprising.