Alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons is a flinty, no-nonsense player. When he puts together a group like the Cosmosamatics, he makes sure it’s tough-minded. Magnitudes delivers 11 tracks of bedrock free-bop, urban blues and rock-solid inside/outside playing.
Multi-reed man Michael Marcus, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Jay Rosen help with the muscle work, digging into terse themes, then churning away during the solos. It’s not that the Cosmosamatics are musical Neanderthals; each member is a technically equipped, thoroughly sophisticated musician, highly versed in the rigors of nearly every jazz idiom. This is more a case of the players being eager to dispense with the niceties. On “Uugmoanius,” Mateen and Rosen underpin things initially with minimal accompaniment. After a moment or two, it becomes clear how rocking the pulse is, and how attuned to Marcus’s gutbucket baritone and Simmons’s otherworldly alto.
This duality — Marcus’s earthiness placed in opposition to Simmons’s obliquity — is one of the group’s most beguiling aspects. Some of the band’s historical antecedents become evident on the next two tracks. “Avant Guard Destruct” (there are two versions on the album) is reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s work. And “Thank U Bird” (also in two versions) again pays allegiance to Ornette as well as to its obvious dedicatee. Marcus (on the seldom heard saxello) and Simmons are atypically gentle here, paying a kind of respectful homage. “12 Seasons of Love” is a ballad, Cosmosamatics’ style, heft hewing to the lyricism.
Rosen’s work bears close attention, working a powerful undercurrent in service to structure. Mateen’s beautifully in tune arco playing is likewise in touch with the group’s contours. The band engages in a kind of skewed funk in “Urban Nightmare.” Simmons eschews the wailing generally associated with sax solos in this idiom, opting for a starker, more plaintive approach that is all the more powerful for its reticence. The album ends going back deeply to the tradition: “Round About Midnight.” Simmons plays alone for nearly five minutes, a totally masterful essay on where this music came from, and where it has the potential to go. At the coda, Marcus enters quietly on baritone, a surprisingly contemplative but strangely appropriate finale to a powerful session.