The Cosmosamatics | Free Within The Law | Not Two Records

Not Two, 2008 | MW 792-2 | CD

Sonny Simmons – alto sax, English horn | Michael Marcus – tenor sax, Bb clarinet | Peter Herbert – bass | Art Lewis – drums

Produced by Michael Marcus. Executive producer: Marek Winiarski / Not Two Records. Recorded at Alchemia, Krakow, Poland on October 2 (studio) and October 3 (live), 2006. Recorded by Michal Rosicki (MAQ Studio). Edited and mastered by Eric Enjem N.Y.C. December 2007. Photos by Krzysztof Penarski. Cover design by Andrzej Wojnowski.

Tracklist: 1. Free Within The Law [06:00] 2. Afro Funk [10:24] 3. Janet’s Moods [07:30] 4. May-Lee-High-Young (Beautiful Ocean) [09:19] 5. Morning Daffodil (live) [10:34] 6. Ginger Root (live) [01:01] 7. The Polish Rally (live) [05:00]

Michael Marcus | Photo by Krzysztof Penarski

The Cosmosamatics are coming to town!

We’re coming at you, gang!” I hang up the phone. I wonder how gray life would be if I didn’t get that kind of news every fall. October 2004,2005, 2006…  Sonny, Michael and whatever exciting rhythm section they work with have a gig at the Sunside Paris, France, then head to Poland, to the UK, to Portugal, to Austria, to Scandinavia… To many a European fan, it’s more than another gig to attend: it’s waiting for one of your best friends to come back to visit – The Cosmosamatics!. They are the road group par excellence, the “Road Doggs”, Marcus says. It’s not only about music, it’s about a lifestyle.

Magic words: festivals, backstage, : clubs, crowds, cheers, the breaks between the sets, hanging around the bar to discuss the news as if a year hadn’t elapsed, this is the jazz evening you’ve been dreaming about. You need not a show at some big concert hall with a tuxedo to bawl at “jazz as an artform”. The Cosmosamatics are for your guts. The warmth of their music matches their attitude: Michael defines it as “New York energy”; Sonny as “love energy”. Levels and degrees of energy, rather than “levels and degrees of light”: where most groups in the free jazz canon toy with the shadow/light contrast, brooding , solemnity vs. exuberance and faster-than-your-life aggressivity, the Cosmosamatics are interested in the texture, the mellow and the hard, a manly expression of the ups (Marcus’ delicate ballads and melodies) and the downs (Simmons’ intricate anthems, e.g., “Janet’s Moods”). Not much has been said about Michael Marcus’ writing. It certainly is a shame, for he is a very distinctive voice today; and yet this album, unlike the previous ones, features more Simmons tunes, Marcus’ personality is still a defining element of “Free Within The Law”.

Under his influence, Sonny’s themes give way to simple patterns and vamps on which both soloists can oh so brilliantly stretch, rather than to his usual elaborate developments. The reverse is true: where Marcus in solo privileges arrangement, Sonny takes his ideas and strips them down, adding his own urgency. Opposite psychological forces at work, from the start, always made the Cosmosamatics a laboratory rather than your  average combo: everything can happen, and the frequent inclusion of fresh new personalities in the I mix (here, two legends in their own ways: Art Lewis, the driving force behind Andrew Hill’s legendary  recording “Invitation”, and Peter Herbert, a new voice on bass from Austria ) is a creative challenge , for the two leaders everytime.  This is their third album for the colorful polish company, a tribute to the “Eastern Block’s” appreciation and understanding of their music and, let it be said, the real  Cosmosamatics are preserved on Not Two. “Free Within The Law”, rather than Prisoners of Chaos.  — Julien Palomo, HW! webmaster, November2007 Paris

Sonny Simmons | Photo by Krzysztof Penarski

Free within the Law

comes courtesy of the Cosmosamatics, the long-term aggregate co-led by Marcus with veteran pioneer and improviser Sonny Simmons. From the first moments of the title track, seemingly boundless New Thing energy is the order of the day, the rough edges even informing the softer-grained textures and luscious clarinet and English horn counterpoint of “Afro Funk”. Uhr-blues pervades the sinewy swing of “May-Lee-High-Young” as its frontline horn dissonances charge their exuberant but reflective way forward. Simmons is in especially fine form here, each utterance and gesture a testament to his rhythmic versatility and dynamic control. Despite these levels of introspection, the energy is ramped back up during the concert portion of the disc, bassist Peter Herbert and drummer Art Lewis providing scorching support on the freneticism of “The Polish Rally,” bringing the disc to a highly charged conclusion. — Marc Medwin, All About Jazz



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2 thoughts on “The Cosmosamatics | Free Within The Law | Not Two Records

  1. Sonny Simmons (alto sax, English horn) and Michael Marcus (tenor sax, Bb clarinet) are the twin sentinels of the powerhouse quartet, The Cosmosamatics, whose dynamic is enhanced by Art Lewis (drums) and Peter Herbert (bass). The familiarity between Simmons and Marcus helps drive the music as they fathom and develop ideas on the go. Lewis pumps the rhythm for the front line, but he has long been one to divine the recourse and path of a tune.

    Simmons was an integral presence of the avant-garde scene of the Sixties. He dropped out of sight only to return in the Nineties. He had Marcus on his recording, Transcendence (CIMP), which came out in 1996. Five years later came the release of The Cosomosamatics followed by The Cosmosamatics II, both of which were on Boxholder Records.

    Simmons and Marcus are at ease with the permutations of free jazz, but their writing here goes well beyond that. Their compositions take in other shades of jazz, making this album one that not only grabs attention with its diversity but also stamps the credentials of the band as a driving, creative force.

    “Free Within the Law” careens like a drunk, swerving along the head on horns and arco. Once the pulse is set, Simmons and Marcus zap in with ardent vigor. The pace is frenetic as the two bob and weave, cut and swap lines, and turn up the heat. It is a big brawling expression of freedom that never falls into the chasm of predictability.

    The mood takes quite a different turn on “Afro Funk.” Yes, it’s funky alright, with Simmons blowing the enchanting melody and Marcus adding a bottom layer on the sweet tones of the Bb clarinet. The melody is exposed through sinuous lines and once more the men with the horns not only clasp on ensemble lines, but also thread their way through each others lines. Lewis’s rhythm is insistent, yet he lets in subtle shifts of time and emphasis while Herbert is rock steady—all of which makes for a dazzling cornucopia of sound.

    “Morning Daffodil” starts as a ballad with Marcus and Simmons drawing taut lines. The symmetry in their voices is inspired, their measured notes singing in tandem. Marcus goes on his own to take the road to bop, inventing convoluted lines that breathe from the lower register of the tenor. Simmons prances on the lighter tone of the alto sax, but is not averse to loosening high flying phrases that sit nicely in the land of intuitive response.

    The power and the majesty of the band is rife in every note. They set up challenges and meet them head on, which makes for absorbing music.

  2. This group has fortunately been documented quite a few times on record, and consequently this disc offers insight into an ongoing affair. The front line of woodwind multi-instrumentalists Sonny Simmons and Michael Marcus has now not only established the kind of rapport Simmons used to have with Prince Lasha forty odd years ago, but also moved beyond it, which is just as it should be.

    This is abundantly obvious from the off. The opening title track finds the two men jousting like there’s no tomorrow, with lines spinning off into the ether at a high rate. Their efforts are given ample substance by the bass and drums of Peter Herbert and Art Lewis respectively, a duo alert to every rhythmic nuance and capable of imparting enough drive to move mountains.

    The sly funk of Simmons’s “Afro Funk” proves there’s more to this group than all out blowing. The composer’s English horn is an instrument he’s made his own in this area of the music and its keening edge provides a nice contrast with Marcus’s John Carter-influenced Bb clarinet. Again the two men converse over the rhythmic backdrop for a while before Simmons solos and the overall effect is happily that of four men in thrall to the greater idea that the music inevitably is.

    The same funk applies to Marcus’s “May-Lee-High-Young.” Down home in terms of rhythmic contours, Simmons puts in some of his most effective work on this one, showing how much he’s absorbed the Ornette Coleman strand and refined it to the point where his is the voice that emerges at the expense of all others. Marcus’s tenor sax here is garrulous without being overbearing, not least because he too has long since arrived at the point of personal expression, which is just as it should be.

    In such company, Marcus’s “Morning Daffodil” has an elegiac air about it, which fulfills the promise of the title. Lewis employs brushes in a manner which brings out the innate beauty of the reeds mens’ lines and Marcus shows, in no uncertain terms, how his appreciation of the tradition goes back decades. Again the balance between form preconceived and form spontaneous is finely struck and the results are compelling.

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