Tenor player Derek Brown has made a name for himself with a concept called "BEATBoX SAX," a method of playing saxophone in a continuous stream of pops, honks, melody and slap-tonguing that comes out like a hip-hop variation on Boots Randolph's old novelty tune. "Yakety Sax." He has put several videos on YouTube of him doing this solo, but on this recording, he shows he is far more than a novelty act. He uses his technique in large ensemble compositions that he performs with the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra and groups from his alma mater, Michigan's Hope College. These pieces encompass a large variety of musical concepts and show the ambitious scope of his work.
The ensemble parts are full of joyous big band shouts and Brown's lead lines still do the beatbox clicking and popping but there are also interlocking and repeating orchestral lines which show he knows all about the work of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. This shows up in the group backgrounds on "A Simple Gesture" and throughout the rhythms on "Human Error" which play underneath Brown's scorching tenor solos and Lee Heerspink's incendiary electric guitar. A string quartet mixes with the orchestra on "The Pursuit," creating a large, fast-moving Midwestern landscape which sounds like Pat Metheny's orchestral work. Brown and caleb elzinga go on a soulful two tenor binge here, cackling and honking like King Curtis and leading the entire orchestra into a wavy soul vibe.
There is a religious feel to "Vantage Point." The horns echo and ping pong in the beginning, before a gospel spirit emerges in Brown's tenor which is then amplified by handclaps and Clif Metcalf's organ. The leader even writes a catchy pop song in "All Figured Out" which he sings over an elastic reggae beat carried by organ, piano and rhythm section. "The Good Fight" is a grand cinematic climax to the session, bringing in waves of saxophones, choppy beats, repetitions, fanfares and even a brief section of Brazilian drumming. On this track as on all the rest, Brown's sax playing is the keystone, warm and luscious, his sound powering emotionally over all the instrumental color and giving this music heart.
Derek Brown is a lot more than a guy who can stutter step through a saxophone solo. He is an impressive artist who can write and perform ferocious, uplifting music for large jazz groups which blends formal complexity with soul. He deserves a lot of attention.
Prelude; Human Error; Again; A Simple Gesture; Vantage Point; All Figured Out; The Pursuit;
Hoping for the Best; The Good Fight.
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