Alto saxophonist Rob Brown has been a fixture on New York's avant-garde scene for over two decades. Working closely with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Joe Morris and Whit Dickey, Brown has appeared on over fifty albums, and more than a dozen as a leader or co-leader.
Typically working in a piano-less quartet format on his own projects, Brown sought a more exotic combination of instruments to help expand his sound palette on Sounds. Eschewing the traditional rhythmic fulcrum of acoustic bass and trap set, he opts instead for a more esoteric variation: cello and percussion.
Cellist Daniel Levin is quickly gaining attention on the Downtown scene. His expansive technique veers from delicate pizzicato and microtonal double stops to robust, sinewy arco sweeps. Fulfilling a role well beyond simple timekeeping, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi's approach with his traditional Japanese taiko set is more textural and intuitive than metrically dependent.
As the sole horn, Brown reaches deep, yielding a great variety of expressive capabilities. His acerbic cry is in full force on the opening section of the "Sounds" suite. Originally developed for the Nancy Zendora Dance Company, and premiered at Vision Fest 2005, the three sections of the suite move from laconic to sprightly through a series of casual, fluid rhythms.
The somber melancholy permeating the conclusion of "Sounds" is broken by the jagged bounce of "Stutter Step." Reminiscent of a Julius Hemphill or Arthur Blythe loft-era session, it jubilantly careens through a maze of knotty detours. The group's ritualistic re-interpretation of "Tibetan Folk Song" is heavily rhythmic while "Sinew," the most exploratory piece on the record, is an exercise in intervallic relationships. Functioning as a continuously evolving unit, the trio's solo statements ebb and flow to the surface in tandem. "Moment of Pause" ends the album on a surprisingly lyrical note; Brown soars through the melody with plangent economy.
Open-ended and spacious but never timid, Sounds displays an exotic side of Brown's muse, removed from the usual free-bop in which he typically traffics.
Personnel: Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Daniel Levin: cello; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion.