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Keith Brown Trio: African Ripples

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Keith Brown Trio: African Ripples
In-demand pianist Keith Brown has ample experience as a sideman and a couple solid leader dates under his belt. But his African Ripples has the distinctive feel of a "statement" record, setting forth the full expanse of his creative vision with bold flair. Inspired by the classic Fats Waller piece first recorded in 1934, the album references Waller throughout as a touchstone, but not in supine imitation; it's rather an opportunity to open up the breadth of the jazz tradition, revealing the ways in which the music's origins continue to forge its present trajectory.

Brown's pianistic talents have earned him guest spots on recent outings including Charles Tolliver's Connect (Gearbox Records, 2020) and Greg Tardy's If Time Could Stand Still (WJ3, 2020), but he's certainly worthy of greater attention as a leader. He's got an authoritative touch, whether on piano or the synths and Rhodes he occasionally uses here, and his bandmates are terrific, especially his core trio with bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Terreon "Tank" Gully, and Darrell Green replacing Gully on a handful of cuts. Whether navigating Brown's crafty post-bop arrangements or laying down a thick funk beat, these guys can do it all, and they're the ideal resources for Brown's all-encompassing musical palette. Brown has a peripatetic aspect to his sound, and he relies on a number of guests to help him cultivate it. The spoken-word contributions of Cyrus Aaron lend a contemporary flavor to "African Ripples Epigraph" and "Prayer for My Nephews," while vocalists Camille Thurman and Melanie Charles bring spirited performances to "Queen" and Stevie Wonder's "Come Back as a Flower," respectively. Trumpeter Russell Gunn, tenor saxophonist Anthony Ware and percussionist Negah Santos give Brown some extra options on a few other cuts.

Well-chosen additions aside, the heart of the album is centered on the trio. Gully's frenetic energy powers "Truth and Comfort," a tricky number with multiple twists and crevasses, while Douglas' driving ostinato propels the similarly vigorous "NAFID." Brown's well-defined melodic sensibility, conjoined with a fervently percussive temperament on his instrument, keeps the excitement level high. Even an old warhorse like "Just You, Just Me" gets completely overhauled by the trio, doing justice to the tune's essential integrity but at the same time making room to transform it into a slice of contemporary funk, somehow pushing the music beyond category. And that's Brown's biggest triumph here: showing how those creative currents that have shaped so many decades of African American music are continuing to inspire and motivate today's practitioners in ways that will ensure its perpetuation and vitality.

Track Listing

African Ripples Epigraph; Truth and Comfort; NAFID; Just You, Just Me; 512 Arkansas St.; African Ripples Part I; African Ripples Part II; Queen; Come Back as a Flower; 118 & 8th; What’s Left Behind; Song of Samson; Eye 2 Eye with the Sun; Prayer for My Nephews; African Ripples.

Personnel

Keith Brown: piano; Dezron Douglas: bass; Terreon Gully: drums; Darrell Green: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Darrell Green: drums (6-8, 13); Russell Gunn: trumpet (1, 5, 12); Anthony Ware: tenor saxophone (1, 5, 12); Melanie Charles: vocals (9); Camille Thurman: vocals (8); Cyrus Aaron: spoken word (1, 14); Nêgah Santos: percussion (12, 13); Tamara Brown: background vocals (8, 9).

Album information

Title: African Ripples | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Space Time Records


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