Sometimes it's not a good thing when young artists release their own records before they have the opportunity to pay some dues. They may possess admirable technique but have yet to develop a rounded conception that gives their music focus. A precocious trumpeter who, at the age of 23, has already played with a wide range of artists including Ramsey Lewis, Lenny White, Ellis Marsalis, Mulgrew Miller and Stefon Harris, Maurice Brown certainly cannot be accused of not having been exposed to a breadth of styles and ideas. Still, as fine a trumpet player as he is, his début release, Hip to Bop
, suffers from a certain musical schizophrenia that time may ultimately fashion into a more cogent direction.
There is nothing wrong with eclecticism; artists like Wallace Roney demonstrate it all the time, with records that reveal a range of influences. But whereas Roney finds a way to merge his diverse influences into a statement with a singular focus, Brown is still searching for ways to tie together his varied interests. "Rapture," with its rapid tempo shifts and starts and stops, has its roots in Miles' mid-'60s quintet. No sooner does Brown establish a rapid-fire technique, more rooted in Hubbard than Davis, than he serves up "It's a New Day," a piece of soul jazz that feels like a complete non sequitur. "Mi Amor" is a tender ballad that could easily fit in Dexter Gordon's oeuvre. "Conceptions," with its snaking theme and hard-swinging solo section, comes straight out of '60s-era Blue Note hard bop. And the title track, with its wah-wah trumpet, is an up-tempo piece of greasy soul-blues that would easily have fit into the Brecker Brothers of the early '70s.
Through it all, Brown demonstrates a technical aptitude that is blended with a remarkably mature approachas capable as he is of virtuoso displays, he is equally aware of the need for space; his solo on the closing ballad, "A Call For All Angels," is a richly subtle piece of lyrical improvisation on a composition that is clearly influenced by mid-'60s Herbie Hancock.
But through it all one can't help but feel like Brown is dabblinga little bit from here, a little bit from thererather than shaping a specific direction that says, "This is who I am." All players are the sum total of their influences and Brown, with a style that combines staggering technique with economy and melodicism, is clearly forging a playing voice that, in time, will no doubt become more distinctive and personal. But as important as it is to hone a unique approach, it is also critical to evolve a convincing musical context within which to portray it. Brown may not be quite there, but Hip to Bop certainly paints a picture of an emerging artist with all the raw ingredients; now all he needs to do is find the right way to blend them.
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Personnel: Maurice Brown (trumpet, wah-wah), Derek Douget (tenor saxophone), Doug Bickel (piano, B-3, wurly), John Stewart (bass), Adonis Rose (drums), Bill Summers (percussion on "It's a New Day")