Bassist Mark London Sims' new album, Limited Expression, closes with the original "Music Should Change Instantaneously," a title which hints at the underlying philosophy guiding his life as a musician. An intuitive player in jazz, R&B, reggae and beyond, Sims has forged a path through music including work with free jazz-meets-world music pioneer Don Cherry (innovative collaborator with Ornette Coleman, and father of Neneh Cherry), and with Ben Harper, Dave Wakeling, hip hop star Sonja Marie and reggae icon Joe Higgs. An appetite for change mixes with an abiding respect for the specific musical traditions he engages in. Elements of change and versatility also extend to Sims' tools of expression. Limited Expression finds Sims donning hats as bassist, vocalist, keyboardist, guitarist, rapper, and as a flexible conceptualist. Just as his bass playing is both a grounding and expanding force, Sims' album is an R&B project, at root, but is freely colored and fortified by jazz, reggae rhythms, touches of hip hop, and other impulses. Sims comes to his eclecticism naturally. In the '80s, after studying at Cal Arts with such teachers as Charlie Haden and James Newton, Sims quickly plied his skills as a bassist in a variety of settings. Early on, he pursued his ear for avant-garde ideas, as a founding member of the adventurous world-jazz band project Dark (featuring percussionist Mark Nauseef) and part of the Nels Cline Trio (guitarist Cline now plays with Wilco, in addition to his own chancier projects). All told, over the past twenty years, Sims has appeared on more than twenty albums, including Don Cherry's Multi-Kulti, Ben Harper's Like a King, Ghetto Stout by the Untouchables, Beautiful Day by the Eels, and How Love Really Loves, by Sonja Marie. Along the way, he has also worked with Stevie Wonder, L. Shankar, the Watts Prophets, and the Mighty Sparrow. With Limited Expression, though, Sims puts his musical gifts forward in a more personal way, distilling ideas and experiences from the past two decades in music. Although Sims played many of the tracks on his project, he has also enlisted good musical company here. Carla Drew lends her supple soul voice to "He Just Said Yes," "Neck and Neck," and "Turn it Around" (which she also wrote). Derrick Conyers vocalizes on "Kickin' Back and Hustlin'," "Concrete Hard--" a moody soul tune with sprinklings of reggae in the mix-and on the chant-like "Music Should Change Instantaneously." Conyers also adds flurries of trumpet as the song fades, after a disarming mid-song interlude of tabla, from percussionist Leonice Shinneman. On the medley "Down Racism/Money First," he shows his skills in using the studio as creative lab, layering tracks beneath his heated, socially-charged rap delivered coolly in his easy-does-it tones as he decries social and racial inequities in today's America. Righteous indignation gives way to sweet lyricism on the instrumental piece "Rita," with Sims laying down the reflective melody on bass. Limited Expression is a personal statement and also a progress report on a diverse musical life very much in motion. - Josef Woodard.
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