Dave Simmons has graced these pages in the past, and it’s nice to see him back with new music and directive to boot. I’ve known Simmons for many years now. First, as a member of different area bands, and then as a friend and fellow guitarist. While we had not stayed in touch a lot, I was always aware of his continued foray into playing and writing in other situations. When he came to me with his 2012 project, This New Life Of Mine, for review, I was pleasantly surprised with his direction and playing prowess. He then submitted his 2016 release, Cages, which I reviewed and enjoyed immensely. And now he’s back again with The Light Between.
Simmons tells the story of the birth of The Light Between. “I started writing for the CD, The Light Between, in August 2015 through December 2015. I wrote and recorded 18 demo songs of just guitar on my iPad. About a month later I started contacting musicians I wanted on this CD. Rehearsals and song development started in May 2016, and finished June 2017. For this CD, I worked with my longtime bassist, Mark Yard, and musician/producer/engineer, Steve Puntililo, on drums. I played all the guitars.”
When it comes to describing the recording style of the disc, Simmons says, “Going in, I knew this CD was going to be different than my last few CDs in some ways. First, it was going to be recorded in a conventional studio instead of an abandoned building like Cages, and, This New Life of Mine were. The CD was recorded over two days in July 2017, at Submergent Music and Shorefire Recording Studio.”
As far as the style and overall process of the CD, Simmons says, “Secondly, we planned on performing and recording the CD live. We spent a lot of time revisiting old Miles Davis records, analyzing how he wrote and recorded with his bands. We wanted to have as little editing and overdubs as possible, which is what we accomplished. As an artist, I moved away from intro, verse, chorus-style arrangements. Because the songs are structured in an open format, I wanted to capture the interplay along with the improvisation between the musicians. As a group, we all felt strongly that the CD should have a human element about it. I’m very proud of the performances we captured on this CD.”
But doing a recording like this was not as easy as it might sound. Simmons goes on to tell us, “This all sounds fairly straightforward but it wasn’t easy. My original single guitar demos had a sparse openness about them, which I loved, and that I wanted to retain all while utilizing a rhythm section. Also, these are rock songs, not jazz pieces, and I wasn’t exactly sure how they would translate to a non-rock format without giving the listener guitar fatigue. The most time-consuming part was learning how to communicate musically with one another. I chose each musician for their specific musical voice. We spent months working on the arrangement of the songs, exploring different musical pathways so the songs could develop. We went through all 18 songs until we found the six that best represented my theme for this record.”
When discussing the actual concept, Simmons digs down deep and responds, “My concept for the CD was relationships. I came up with the phrase, ‘The light between you and I. The space between our words and emotions. This is where we once met.’ This was my starting point. Relationships are extremely complicated. I was trying to find those moments where a relationship might succeed or the moment where it starts to fail. I wondered how I could express those spaces with music.”
When you ask Simmons about inspiration and passion for the recording, he tells us, “About a year ago I picked up an endorsement deal from Zemaitis guitars. This changed the way that I viewed myself as an artist. I wanted to make the best piece of art possible. What I mean is, I wasn’t going to cut the song lengths or arrange the songs to fit a radio station format, or even the listener’s tastes or needs. The songs are full musical thoughts. They are provoking, emotional and ever changing, just like what a person experiences throughout their day. It challenges the listener to relax and take the time to enjoy a complete musical piece. I wanted to push the boundaries of this genre by moving away from 1000 note-technical solos. I tried to add different elements of rock, blues, soundscape and at times, even jazz, to create a palette of tone colors to express my ideas.
So, let’s take a listen to The Light Between and see what he has for us now.
The CD starts off with the title-track, “The Light Between.” Coming at 10:09, “The Light Between” is no pop ditty looking for a record contract. It is a bonafide foray into progressive-based, rock ‘n’ roll music. Guitars start things off with grinding chord progressions, and bend as drums and bass pulsate underneath. Simmons has grown so much as a guitarist since the early days in which I knew him and heard him play. This song uses complex chord progressions and riffs to move from section to section, and has many elements of players like Jimmy Page and Tommy Shaw as he bends and shakes his guitar throughout the piece. Overall, “The Light Between” moves in a great direction and contains many excellent nuances and movements. Lead breaks reign throughout and Simmons demonstrates a superior knowledge of guitar prowess. I’m not entirely sure what he’s using here, but the tone is perfect. A truly fantastic song and overall band performance. This is one of four tracks engineered by the great Joe DeMaio over at Shorefire.
The next track is, “Emotional, Technical Abstract 1.” Simmons used a clean, two-handed tapping technique to start things off. The solo guitar work sounds pristine, utilizing extremely clean guitar sounds. Bass clarifies in the background as Simmons does his job. He continues the style throughout the piece. This is the shortest song on the disc, coming in at 2:53.
Things continue with, “Emotional Technical Abstract II-IV.” The drums count off, and the bass becomes more foreground after a few more measures. Simmons is going for pure, unadulterated freeform here. Sort of like Miles Davis, Simmons floats throughout the piece, building and eventually bringing in the drums as he starts to blend chord work with lead breaks. It has a regular meter and feel, gaining momentum and moving up the ladder of sound. He sticks with the two-handed tapping throughout but changes things up as he goes. At around 3:58 things go ballistic. This is when Simmons and crew tear into a rock opera of sorts. Drums, Bass, and guitars flare and fire with all the passion of ELP or early Gary Moore. Simmons manages to capture the listener without boring him to tears, and that’s not easy in this genre.
“Circle of Chaos” is up next. Simmons and company tear into an off-kilter ¾ jam to beat the band. Guitars are gnarly and well-toned as bass and drums explode into flourishes of syncopated delight. Simmons lead work brings back memories of John McLaughlin during his Mahavishnu Orchestra days. Guitars are dirty but bright, giving off a level of distinct clarity that is needed for this type of music. Bass and drums pound the pavement, holding things down to the ground and keeping a continuity overall. The back end shows bass dexterity as Simmons layers everything with a bounty of well-hewn chord work.
“I’ll Follow You Down” is up next. Tremolo guitars sing structured riffs as acoustics flash over the top and bass plucks the bottom. Simmons uses harmonies with his guitar work to change things up. It’s a short and beautiful journey into experimental sound, and it works like gangbusters.
There are a couple of other songs that we don’t have space to include but it’s safe to say that The Light Between is a winning combination of progressive rock, combined with the otherworldly effects of experimental music. Simmons has genuinely impressed with this CD, and I hope he continues to do more in this vein for the future.
If you want to see Simmons live, he will be at The Brighton Bar for an all Instrumental Night with The Inversion Circus, and STC, Super Thrash Bros and more to be announced on Nov. 24. All Ages, $10 to $12, show produced by DAA Entertainment, Brighton Bar. He will also be back at the Brighton with the Rocket Queens (an all-female tribute to Guns N Roses) on Dec. 15.
For more information on Dave Simmons and The Light Between, head over to facebook.com/Simmons.David.