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This month is significant alone in that two veteran jazz bassists, Percy Heath and Cameron Brown, have simultaneously released their long overdue debuts as leaders. From Brown’s first appearance with George Russell (featuring Don Cherry) in 1965, we can now 40 years later enjoy the fruits of the bassist’s first led session. The surviving member of the George Adams/ Don Pullen quartet, one of the great groups in jazz that existed for nearly ten years, Brown has been associated with some legendary voices, one of them being tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman. In his group, the leader invited his old boss Redman, trumpeter/ flugelhorn player Dave Ballou, drummer Leon Parker, and the ever- youthful Sheila Jordan whose instrumental displays as a singer are ideally captured here. (The well received CD release concert last month at Cornelia Street Café featured a similar lineup, with drummer Billy Hart and trombonist Mark Patterson replacing Parker and Redman.)
Recorded by the well-respected engineer David Baker, the live feel is exquisitely captured with studio-like sound quality. Kudos also to Brown and Omnitone for maintaining the level of creativity without a fade to accommodate radio airplay and short attention spans. The two shortest tunes are just under nine minutes, while the others venture well beyond ten minutes starting with Cherry’s “Art Deco” (lyrics which were written by the vocalist at the composer’s request). One of the most versatile of vocalists, Jordan has always had an affinity for bass players and she plays as central an element to Brown’s group concept as any other. The singer’s authentic child-like energy is appropriately suited and genuinely performed on the leader’s original lyrics to “Rylie’s Bounce”, an effervescent bop-inspired original. Don Cherry’s “Remembrance” (aka “My Folks”), from the Complete Communion suite, spotlights her heritage-inspired Native American chanting vocals. She warmly opens a tear-jerking rendition of the jazz standard “For All We Know” that features a memorable somber Redman solo.
Brown has appropriately described his unique approach as bandleader as “The less-is-more-idea.” Hopefully we’ll be hearing his group more than less.