It is easy to think of saxophonist Ari Brown as the heir to the late, great Chicago tenorists Von Freeman and Fred Anderson but that would not be a fair assessment. Far more than a successor, Brown is the youngest and remaining member of a powerfully unique musical triumvirate. His idiosyncratic style is equally appropriate to both provocative avant-garde explorations and the laid back swagger of hard bop.
On his fourth release as a leader, Groove Awakening Brown leads his regular working band through seven originals (one of which is by pianist Kirk Brown), dedicated to friends and family, and two standards. The overall mood is elegantly reserved at first listen but behind the surface it brims with spirited vitality. Brown's intriguingly passionate tenor pours out a poetic and edgy flood of notes on "Wayne's Trane." The simultaneously stimulating and accessible improvisation unfurls over fiery, thrilling rhythmic flourishes. Kirk Brown's dynamic and riveting solo sparkles with intelligent spontaneity.
The record demonstrates Brown's range of influences and his versatility. On the funky title track Brown's ardent swirls of sound balance a visceral earthiness with a haunting sophistication as he blows through both his saxophones simultaneously. Meanwhile "In A Sentimental Mood" demonstrates his raspy yet tender blues-drenched tone that contrasts nicely with his lyrical, agile soprano on the intimate and melodic ballad "Give Thanks (Song For Gerri)."
The music becomes edgier on the intricately woven modal piece "Enka" bisected by Kirk Brown's cool, contemplative cascade of notes. Drummer Avreeayl Ra's and percussionist Andrea Stracuzzi's percolating beats and rolling thrums laced with bassist Yosef Ben Israel's reverberating strings create an atmospheric and intriguing backdrop. Over these dramatic vamps Brown' stimulating extemporization meanders with intellectual vigor and restrained emotional excitement. His eerie vocalizations through the saxophone mouthpiece bring the tune to a satisfyingly perfect conclusion.
This compelling record demonstrates that Brown's singular approach is very much in the spirit of his older and regretfully departed fellow citizens, Anderson and Freeman. With the help of his band members Brown is keeping alive the intrepid individuality and the creative rigor of Chicago jazz.
One for Ken; Groove Awakening; Enka; Veda's Dance; Lonnie's Lament; In a Sentimental Mood;
3bop 4 Mal; Wayne's Trane; Give Thanks (Song for Gerri).
Ari Brown: soprano and tenor saxophones; Kirk Brown: piano; Yosef Ben Israel: bass; Avreeayl
Ra: drums; Dr. Cuz: percussion.