Rob Brown: Crown Trunk Root Funk (2008)
The function of liner notes is to bring the listener closer to the music. They need not be very broad in scope. Some of the most straightforward liner notes are often the most useful. For they do not impose layers of unnecessary skin to peel away in order to reach their point. After all, the music is the point. Rob Brown wrote the liner notes for his quartet's recording Crown Trunk Root Funk. In their humility and simplicity lies a precious key for unlocking what is to be heard.
Brown's quartet has a traditional structure: piano, bass, drums, and alto sax. But, the players make the obvious difference. Brown has formed a group which already has a camaraderie, the closeness of which bumps the chances for creating music that has a contemporary edge.
The unifying element in the music is synchrony. It does not start out that way. It starts with William Parker snapping out a 3-note "funk" groove on the bass, which is followed by the drums to provide the pulse a count behind the bass. The piano sets forth phrasing that quickly aligns with the bass notes. A mainline of alto comes spiraling into the clutch of the rhythm. It is not long before the piano and the alto are in sync. The bridge from one synchronous run to the next is made by a tremolo from the alto or a cluster of notes from the piano. "Rocking Horse" becomes a continuing conversation between the alto and piano, with the emphasis on the split-toned tremolo leadership of the horn taken over by the percussive dissonance of the piano. The steadiness of the rhythm brings the two diverged instruments back together in anticipation of the close.
The recording proceeds with development of a sync/out-of-sync concept over offbeat, abstract or on target rhythmic backdrop. The alto governs the pace of each piece. Composer/musician Brown's playing is bright, clean, and truly tuneful. In "Exuberance" though, he moves into an improvisational mode, exposing his aptitude for letting sometimes strained and stretched arpeggios take him neatly to places where he can return to his overall intentions. Whenever he reaches the low register of the horn, it feels as though he touches on another personality.
The piano plays an important role for Brown. Taborn echoes his pitches in every track but one. Yet, Taborn is given license to cover his own territory extending the premises that Brown has put down ("Rocking Horse," "Exuberance") and in groups of phrasing Taborn counteracts Brown's up and down motion ("Lifeboat"). Parker and Cleaver also seize the moments to solo briefly and naturally demonstrate instrumental character and acumen.
The most unique piece, "Sonic Ecosystem," becomes central to the design of the recording. It is a quiet evolution of bowed bass and alto winding their way through the almost bug-like sprightliness of percussion, piano, and synthesizer; a testament to the lack of bombast in Brown's rigorous creative process.
Track Listing: Rocking Horse; Clearly Speaking; Sonic Ecosystem; Ghost Dog; Exuberance; Lifeboat; Worlds Spinning.
Personnel: Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano, electronics; William Parker: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.