If your Latin jazz collection centers mainly around styles from Cuba and Brazil, pianist Edward Simon would like you to consider expanding your library to include musical influences from a culturally diverse land geographically situated between those two countries – namely Venezuela, where he was born and lived until the age of 12. Simon is an acclaimed post-bop and modern creative jazz pianist in his adopted country of the United States, and while Latin American elements have certainly seasoned his recorded output to date, this 2014 Sunnyside release finds him focusing more intently than ever on the nexus between creative jazz and the folk music of his home country. The album's title is derived from "Venezuelan Suite," whose four parts fill over 28 minutes of the disc's concise 38-minute duration. Simon composed the suite for his Ensemble Venezuela, and the ten-member version of the group heard here – including musicians from the U.S., Venezuela, and Colombia – is wonderfully vibrant, ably fulfilling the pianist's creative intent. Chamber Music America commissioned Simon to write this work, and he rose to the challenge with music that is suitably rich with timbral and textural variety.
This CD, in places, just cranks it up and spits out a wall of undiluted rock and roll. Straight ahead full speed ahead and tell everything to get out of our way. "Gypsy Blood," and "Dancin' on Top of the World," are two cuts that really stand out in this vein. A couple of the tracks just seem to be languishing in a daze as if they've suffered a concussion, and can't decide which way to go. This CD is produced by Dave Edmunds, and I like a lot of his work because when it hits, it hits hard. However, when it misses it leaves you scratching your head wondering. The band is tight, just sometimes lacking that guiding hand. The hard-charging "Courage" alone makes this a worthwhile disc, and there is more than just that track to pick the listener up. (Bob Gottlieb, AMG)