As one of the last surviving original Tristanoites, Ted Brown’s reputation is surprisingly the least prominent of his peers. Though he shared the frontline with Warne Marsh on Jazz of Two Cities
(1957), his discography since that seminal date has been a checkered affair with plenty of protracted holes, mostly due to a gig as an educator. Criss Cross stepped in during the '80s, issuing two dates under Brown’s name, and Steeplechase teamed him with his old chum Lee Konitz for a freewheeling pianoless conclave in the form of Dig It
(1999). But this latest offering from the Danish imprint marks Brown’s first led recording of the new millennium. Sitting comfortably at the controls, he demonstrates from the start that his chops haven’t eroded a bit during his long hiatus in academia.
Brown’s laidback limpid tone might not align with listeners who prefer their tenors tough and fiery, but it shows that he still holds true to the Tristano credo of putting the content of a solo before its inflection. In the context of this program’s evenly balanced ratio of standards to originals, his sound works exceptionally well. Brown clearly delineates leader and sideman roles from the get go, but he never uses his dominant position as an excuse for showboating. The rhythm section, officiated by Steeplechase veteran Harold Danko, fits Brown’s specifications of harmonic flexibility and responsiveness almost seamlessly.
Brown, like his former colleague Marsh, evinces great enthusiasm when it comes to improvising on transposed chords. He spares no time in getting down to business, whispering an extemporaneous answer to “Three Little Words.” Space and timing play important roles in his phrasing placement as choruses float by in smooth succession and Hirshfield’s steady cymbal beat keeps the tune bouncing along. The shopworn “Yesterdays” receives a welcome melodic makeover and features some of Brown’s most nakedly romantic musings of the date. His translucent voicing of notes matches particularly well to these plush surroundings and the gradual tempo adds to the overarching afterhours ambience.
The title track, with pun imbedded to identify its dedicatee, builds off the base of Lester Young’s “Tickle Toe.” Brown adopts a convincing Lestorian guise for his foray through the melody. Danko settles into supply sensitive counterpoint in response the leader’s improvisations, before shaping his own fertile interpretation on the theme.
The quartet breezes beautifully through two more standards, “Willow Weep for Me” and the Gershwin showpiece “Somebody Loves Me,” before landing lightly on Brown’s quaint “Little Quail.” Based loosely on the chord progressions of “I’ll Remember April,” this retooled swinger carries the album out on airy, optimistic note. Brown sashays through the first several choruses sans Danko and it’s a pleasure to hear him explicate in the absence of strict chordal tethers. Occasions in the studio may be few and far between, but Brown is still at the top of his game.
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Personnel: Ted Brown- tenor saxophone; Harold Danko- piano; Dennis Irwin- bass; Jeff Hirschfield- drums. Recorded: November 2002.