Marlon Simon and The Nagual Spirits
On Different Paths
Drummer and composer Marlon Simon leads his sextet, The Nagual Spirits On Different Paths, his fifth effort with the unit as they fuse pan-Latin jazz with classical influences, some veering toward chamber music with the addition of a bassoonist and French horn player. With a base of his native Venezuelan folkloric rhythms, Simon takes a multicultural approach, blending in strains from several countries. It is an interesting blend of Latin jazz and classical motifs. The ensemble features his younger brothers, pianist Edward Simon and trumpeter Michael Simon, bassist Boris Kozlov, trumpeter Alex Norris, trumpeter Peter Brainin, and percussionist Roberto Quintero. The chamber element owes to bassoonist Monica Ellis and French horn player Kevin Newton.
The opening “Searching” features the French horn and has an unmistakable Baroque quality that intersperses with the Latin rhythms, setting the tone for the album. The vibrant title track merges Venezuelan, Cuban, and Brazilian elements in an intricate rhythm pattern as the horns form a modern jazz harmonious backdrop. Pianist Simon, a mainstay for the SF Jazz Collective and a brilliant leader himself, takes the brimming solo. “Walking,” although not the bebop piece associated with Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, is a Simon original that swings and does feature trumpets, notably an exciting solo from Norris (who well may have had Clifford Brown in mind). “Above Thought” is a layered, angular piece reflecting Simon’s gift for richly blending the tones of the two trumpeters and saxophonist, who build an uplifting sequence, while the pianist sticks to a basic chord pattern. The rather bland title of “Straight Ahead” disguises what is a Latin burner, bubbling with percussion and energy.
Three of these compositions nod to the composer’s parents, the elegiac, chamber rendered “Pa” which begins with a mournful arco take from Kozlov, the touching ballad “Missing Them,” with highly lyrical trumpets and saxophone, and the closing “August 17th,” which is another example of how Simon effectively merges the Venezuelan folkloric with modern jazz.
Other stunning versions of the aforementioned are the percolating “Un Canto Llanero” and the celebratory “Rumba Pa Andy,” the latter in tribute to late bassist Andy Gonzalez, co-founder of Conjunto Livre and Fort Apache bands. Simon revisits “Variations on Ericka’s Theme” previously recorded by the Nagual Spirits on 2000’s Rumba a la Patato and with a string arrangement on In Case You Missed It. Edward Simon also cut the track on his La Bikina. This richly orchestral piece with Edward’s sprightly piano was originally inspired by the 1999 death of Marlon’s daughter though this version is dedicated to Quintero’s daughter who passed in 2020.
Simon’s music offers an inventive colorful fusion of cultures and bears an orchestral quality that’s remarkable for a sextet, or in some cases an octet as heard here.
- Jim Hynes
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