In the twilight of a glittering career, Paul Simon has regularly delved into the roots of America (gospel, blues, folk) and in fact other world roots traditions (Brazil, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, South Africa), so it really should come as little surprise that he devotes at least part of an album to the jazz tradition. That said, the true raison d’être of this new recording is to revisit some of his earlier and lesser known compositions and to give them a new interpretation, and in this goal, Simon succeeds with his usual aplomb. The whole Wynton Marsalis band are on hand on the traditional New Orleans jazz influenced, ‘Pigs, Sheep and Wolves’, and Simon’s voice allied with a jazz background accompaniment works surprisingly well. A straight ahead jazz ballad is competently tackled on ‘How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns’, with Marsalis this time on muted Harmon along with tasteful quartet. Old school blues is the order of the day on ‘One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor’, with blues and gospel inflections in evidence, and the fine instrumental accompaniment takes a leaf out of the Mavis Staples band of recent years, which means an earthy sound. On hand to adapt to any musical voice required are veteran studio musicians of the calibre of drummer Steve Gadd and Jack DeJohnette the latter on select pieces, while guitarist Bill Frisell is that most sensitive of accompanists to a lead vocalist, and similarly, bassist John Patitucci has performed with many a jazz vocalist. In fact, it is the melodic guitar of Frisell that opens up ‘Love’, with the effective use of space and inventive percussion.
As a singer who both individually and collectively with Art Garfunkel contributed some of the most enjoyable and profoundly meaningful music of the latter half of the twentieth century. Paul McCartney has cut a jazz-oriented album, while Dylan has paid homage to Frank Sinatra, and Van Morrison has regularly dipped into the blues (part of his musical DNA) and, most recently, jazz traditions (a fine duet album with Hammond organist Joey De Francesco). With the notable exception of Dylan whose knowledge of the American blues and folk traditions is nothing less than encyclopaedic, Paul Simon may just be the most wide-ranging exponent of the American musical tradition there is and this fine album merely re-emphasises why.