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Rob Brown Ensemble: Crown Trunk Root Funk

Troy Collins By

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After its successful premier at the 2006 Vision Festival, alto saxophonist Rob Brown took his newest ensemble into the studio to record Crown Trunk Root Funk, his first recording as a leader for AUM Fidelity. A formidable blend of funky abstraction, angular post-bop and dark impressionism, it offers an expansive view of Brown's adventurous aesthetic.

A two decade plus veteran of New York City's Downtown scene, Brown employs three of today's most in-demand sidemen in this quartet. Bandleader, composer and bassist William Parker shares a performing history with Brown dating back twenty years. Drummer Gerald Cleaver has been a regular collaborator of Brown's recently, while pianist Craig Taborn is relatively new to Brown's oeuvre, playing with him for the first time in 2006.

Brown's acerbic alto takes center stage over the course of these roiling, intensely rhythmic tunes, with Taborn's jagged cadences offering reliable support. Eschewing token traditionalism, Taborn avoids conventional comping, liberally unspooling brittle linear phrases under Brown's circuitous salvos, as on the thorny "Lifeboat." Working in tandem, Brown and Taborn meander through the shadowy "Ghost Dog," weaving through labyrinthine passages driven by a percolating groove and sinewy bass ostinato.

Longstanding partners, Taborn and Cleaver unveil their intuitive rapport on "Sonic Ecosystem," the album's sole electronic piece. Glitchy hums emanate from lo-fi electronics as Taborn accents undulating sine waves with pointillist piano phrases, while Cleaver quietly responds with scintillating tones. Sporadically interrupted by a plangent unison theme from Brown's plaintive alto and Parker's bowed bass, their conversation continues unabated.

Clocking countless studio hours together, Taborn, Parker and Cleaver are frequent rhythm section companions. Whether locking into the slow burn vamp of "Rocking Horse" or navigating shifting meters on the knotty post-bop of "Clearly Speaking," they demonstrate their affable interplay with fluid invention.

Eclipsing structural traditions, Brown spars with Cleaver on the first half of "Exuberance," discharging pithy, fragmentary spirals as Cleaver throttles his kit with unfettered abandon before the entire group reconvenes.

Despite the album's overall focus on rhythm, Brown reveals a soulful, impressionistic side on "World's Spinning," closing the record with stark, yearning lyricism.

With over a dozen albums to his credit, Crown Trunk Root Funk is one of Brown's most engaging.

Track Listing: Rocking Horse; Clearly Speaking; Sonic Ecosystem; Ghost Dog; Exuberance; Lifeboat; Worlds Spinning.

Personnel: Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano, electronics; William Parker: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

Title: Crown Trunk Root Funk | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: AUM Fidelity

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