A Master pianist other than a Flanagan, or a Peterson, is faced with the daunting task of recording something that separates them but allows for their brilliance to shine through. The subject of this piece has consistently been able to do this, primarily using vehicles other than the trio or solo format. Putting together perhaps her finest band since the late 1980's quartet featuring Billy Hart, Cecil McBee and Gary Bartz, pianist and composer Joanne Brackeen has just put out a surprising, challenging and ultimately pleasing record. "Pink Elephant Magic", features an elastic and warm rhythm section which comprises of Brackeen, John Pattitucci, and Horacio "El Hegro" Hernandez. The bassist on the date, who shines on such cuts as Ghost Butter a 5/4 reading of Tico Tico and the infectious title track is quite at home here due in part to his recent work with Danillo Perez's highly inventive and rhythmic stylings, and certainly his participation in Chick Corea's barrier bashing ensembles.
On this, her twenty second release as a leader and first effort for Arkadia, Brackeen is in no short supply of guests to comprise her front line. Chris Potter, a very welcome recent addition to bassist David Holland's band is on hand offering up angular, but lyrical soprano work and a probing but not listless tenor approach, that reminds a listener why he is the first tenor in Holland's group in fifteen years. While it would be expected that a versatile saxophonist like Potter would be a good match for Brackeen's almost Ornette like, shifting composing structures, trumpeter Nicholas Payton is a nice surprise. With monster chops and the Brownie like tone, the current pride of Nawlins casts a propulsive fluid groove all throughout the proceedings, particularly on Cram N' Exam, a fitting title for this frenetic outing, being that it is dedicated by Brackeen, an instructor at Berklee to her students. Sharing yet another connection with Holland, who is also able to arrive at an identifiable, individual approach that makes their new releases rise above the flood of decent, well played but bland sea of output, is soprano labelmate Dave Liebman, who sits in on the final tune.
At any point on the record, a listener is struck by the inventiveness of the compositions as well as the playing. From her reharmonization of the bridge of Jobim's Wave, to the quirkiness of her original tunes, one is certain about who's project this is. In itself, that is a rarity. "Pink Elephant Magic", along with her other fine recent work validates the statement made by the late Leonard Feather that Joanne Brackeen is as important to the time period covering the last 19 years as Bill Evans and Herbie were to the 60's, McCoy and Keith Jarret to the '70's. How Joanne Brackeen has not become a bigger name outside jazz music circles, I don't know. But for those who discover her and her new record, it is a treasure found.