As a 21-year-old wunderkind, pianist-composer-arranger Harris Simon went into the studio in March of 1978 to record his first recording under his own name. Produced by George Klabin and Jeff Kaufman, New York Connection featured an all-star cast including tenor sax titan Michael Brecker, Brazilian trumpeter Claudio Roditi, saxophonist-flutist Joe Farrell, Uruguyan keyboardist Hugo Fattoruso, bassist Mike Richmond, guitarist Bill Washer and Brazilian drummer Portinho. Two years later, Simon returned to the studio with essentially the same heavyweight crew to record Swish. Both quintessential late '70s offerings, now available for the first time in three decades on the Resonance Records compilation The Mastery of Passion, represent a moment in time when jazz was crossing over to a wider audience.
"George Klabin had heard me play and he thought that what I was doing was kind of interesting," recalls Simon of the events leading to his initial session. "So he and Jeff Kaufman offered me this opportunity to record."
Having spent some time in Brazil, Klabin had an affinity for the music and connections to musicians like Roditi and Portinho, recruiting them both for Simon's session, along with highly respected session cats like Brecker, Washer and Richmond. Together, Simon's stellar cast helped create a profound statement on his 1978 debut, New York Connection and 1980's sophomore release,Swish.
During this time period, Brecker had many niches on the New York jazz scene. While working as co-leader with his older sibling, trumpeter Randy of The Brecker Brothers, Michael was also a rising and ubiquitous session player, becoming known for his explosive energy and talent for improvisation. Brecker would go on to appear on over 700 albums throughout his career, in constant demand as either a band member or guest. However, many would argue that the 1970s were Brecker's golden years for session work, establishing him as a first call studio musician; lending his dynamic improvisational skills to bands spanning from mainstream jazz to mainstream rock and putting his stamp on numerous pop and rock recordings. The Mastery of Passion is a testament to this, displaying Brecker's jazz artistry at its finest.
Brecker turns in heroic performances on Jeff Kaufman's "All Points South," Denny Zeitlin's swinging "Stonehenge," Fattoruso's fusiony "Romance of Death" and Simon's samba flavored "Don the Don" (all from New York Connection) as well as on Fattoruso's "Wind Chant" and Simon's highly charged, Latin flavored "Swish" (from Swish).
Randy Brecker reflects, "I remember being very impressed with this CD when it was first released, partly because Mike was quite happy with his playing on it, (for once!). Everyone else involved is at 'the top of their game' too, so enjoy it!"
Roditi offers bracing high-note trumpet solos on "All Points South," "Stonehenge" and Cesar Camargo Mariano's cinematic "Factory," along with some tasty flugelhorn work on Ettore Stratta's "City Light." Farrell contributes some mellow flute work on "Loufiana" and Michael Urbaniak turns in a stellar violin solo on the evocative "Midday Dreams." And if these astronomical performances weren't already enough, Harris reveals potent harmonica chops on his poignant "Street Song" (also fromSwish).
Educated at Queens College, Simon was an accomplished pianist-composer-arranger who had come up on the vibrant jazz scene of Jamaica, Queens along with such other talented, budding players from that neighborhood as trumpeter Tom Browne, bassist Marcus Miller, drummer Lenny White and keyboardists Donald Blackman, Bernard Wright. Simon went on to perform extensively in clubs and jazz festivals throughout North America and Europe, including Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., the Village Vanguard in New York City, Fasching Jazz Club in Stockholm, Sweden, the Pori Jazz Festival and the Imatra Jazz Festival in Finland, the Cork Jazz Festival in Ireland, the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in Scotland, the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree in Poland, Jazz Fiesta in Parnu, Estonia, and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
"I still try to play with that level of commitment and passion that you hear on these early recordings," says Simon, who is currently on the adjunct faculty at the College of William & Mary in Virginia and also continues to perform in trio and quartet settings. "As you get older, your knowledge and wisdom come more into play, but you try to keep the fires burning as brightly as you can. So just listening to that aspect of it was very interesting to me. We made some very strong music back then."
Simon reflects on the two potent recordings that helped jump-started his career, "It still sound goods, better than I thought it would. There is definitely a lot of energy and a lot of passion in the playing. And I think it's of its time."
Three decades later, jazz fans can dig those quintessential late '70s sounds on The Mastery of Passion.
Resonance Records HCD-2009 / April 13, 2010
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