Listening to Chicago–based saxophonist Ari Brown’s second Delmark release, I am reminded of the oft–quoted refrain about the little girl who, when she was good was very, very good, but when she was bad . . . well, you know the rest. To those who prefer their Jazz straight–up, as I do, I can wholly recommend about half of this session (more specifically, tracks 1, 4, 5 and 7) with the vibrant opener, dedicated to pianist Willie Pickens, receiving an unqualified endorsement. The rest is more, shall we say, idiosyncratic. Brown, who can play inside or out, emulates Rahsaan Roland Kirk by inserting multiple horns in mouth (with mixed results) on “Serengeti” and squanders almost four minutes on “Roscoe” (inscribed, we presume, to laud fellow AACM member Roscoe Mitchell). We can’t recommend either of these largely inharmonious exercises, nor can we approve unreservedly the sharp–edged “Trane’s Example” or frolicsome “Baldheaded Gerald,” even though each one is well–played by the group (and “Gerald” includes an admirable a cappella
intro by bassist Ben Israel). “Oui Lee,” on the other hand, is an understated treasure with Brown calling to mind Joe Henderson but with a tone closer to Jimmy Heath with a dash of Rollins adding spice. Also resplendent are kid brother Kirk Brown’s melodic piano feature, “Quiet Time”; Ari’s passionate Latin–centered remembrance of his girlfiend, Venus Blue, who succumbed to cancer last year; and the tender ballad “Oh What a World We’re Living In.” A mixed bag, really, but one that surely won’t damage Brown’s well–earned reputation as one of Chicago’s most versatile and accomplished “unknown” musicians.
Track listing: Oui Lee; Trane’s Example; Roscoe; Venus; Quiet Time; Baldhead Gerald; Oh What a World We’re Living In; Rahsaan in the Serengeti (64:02).
Ari Brown, tenor, alto, soprano saxophones; Kirk Brown, piano; Josef Ben Israel, bass; Avreeayl Ra, drums; Art