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Dean Brown: Here

Phil DiPietro By

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During my youth in Boston I was blessed to have witnessed its most fertile output (or was it throughput) of jazz guitarists in its history. From 1976 through around 1984, a handful of clubs that charged nominal or no cover played host, on any given night, to one or more of the following list of jazz and fusion juggernauts: Kevin Eubanks, Bill Frisell, Mick Goodrick, Wayne Krantz, Jack Wilkins, Randy Roos, Bruce Bartlett, Mike Stern and Dean Brown (oh, yeah, there was a kid named Metheny gigging about town as well, although those rooms were always sold out early).

These guys were all great then, and have continued to improve and evolve through today. Even then, I grouped Stern's and Brown's playing together, both jazz-rockers who could spin out line after line of acid-blues, chromatic-laced runs, while never looking at their axe or the audience, their faces obscured by all that tousled straight hair. Of all the guys in town, Dean was bringing the most funk and was the most animated onstage, head always shaking, legs akimbo in his own dance, even during the "normal" parts of the tunes. I remember thinking it was some kind of "act."

It wasn't. About twenty years have gone by, and Dean's still bringing it onstage-he's that into it and obviously, that committed to every measure of the music. During those twenty years, Dean's never put out a recording under his own name, which I'm sure has to do with the busy schedules of the leaders he's worked with, like Steve Smith (Vital Information), Bill Evans, David Sanborn, Marcus, Billy Cobham, George Duke and both Breckers. All these guys must love Dean, considering every single one showed up to contribute on "Here." Dean obviously feels the same way, as evidenced by the self-imposed clampdown on the guitar solos (hell, there's only one exceeding 30 seconds in length for the first five tunes), and the emphasis on his considerable writing and arranging skills, which in turn, accentuate the roles of his reputable collaborators.

Take Marcus for example, who turns in one of his top playing performances ever on the fretless showcase "Gemini" (by the way Marcus plays the fretless F o d e ra onstage while wearing his trademark f e d o ra!). This is my favorite tune on the collection, featuring a gorgeous acoustic intro by Dean, with Marcus stating the melody and immediately going for it in a solo where he plays as many notes at as fast a tempo as I've ever heard him on record, over a slow loping groove provided by James Genus on acoustic and Juju House on drums. Dean starts off with a metallic slapback tone before kicking it into liquid overdrive, working a dose of microtonality in there, yielding to a tasty Rhodes solo by Deron Johnson, which rounds out an intense 5:45.

"Back in the Day" is clearly a "Dan" thing, smooth but definitely not smooth jazz, featuring a bitchin' horn chart, a slapped bass melody by no less than the world's greatest slapped bass melodist, and a signature solo by a leading "Dan"-man, David Sanborn.

I'd like to hear Dean explore the direction taken on "The Clave Groove" more fully on his next one. This one features more traditional instrumentation, with McBride on acoustic and Cobham providing a light samba groove. Dean gets a big hollowbody jazz guitar sound and takes a couple of quick, Bluenote inspired choruses . I mean Dean can burn, just check out the snippets he throws in as the tune winds down after Cobhams's time-bending breakdown. By the way, see if you can pick out the quote from "Eleanor Rigby" in Dean's solo, which portends his inspired rearrangement of the Beatles "Baby You're a Rich Man," complete with backwards-looped guitars and slickly arranged singing that intentionally clashes with Dean's midi fied Reznor-cum-Manson vocalisms(where sarcastic emphasis is demanded).

I noticed that a couple of Bass publications have picked up on this cd because there is some truly inventive stuff here involving acoustic and electric basses used simultaneously by different players. Marcus doesn't play a bass line on the record-it's all "lead" bass. We've got either James Genus or Christian McBride on acoustic, and Richard Patterson on electric. Elsewhere, there are two grooves happening, not in unison, but contrapuntally, as on "Tell it," wherein Schuyler Deale augments, but never impedes, McBride's and Cobham's huge pocket.

Speaking of giving the bass players some, Dean dedicates the last piece to Jaco, a tragic icon that, rightfully, shall never cease invocation. I don't know if Dean admired Jaco from afar or had occasion to play/hang, but this melancholic rock march makes a soundtrack to a sense of loss that transforms into one of optimistic creation. The middle of the tune features Dean's longest, meatiest, most psychedelic playing on the record, starting off with less notes, but with the phrases coming in interesting, jazzy shapes, and running into longer statements of many more notes clearly falling into the rock vocabulary. It shows you he can go toe-to-toe with the best of 'em, exhibiting the elements of his playing that were just as fully formed that time ago in Beantown, when gunslingers ruled the Back Bay and Cambridge like Dodge City and the OK Corral. While it is certainly a special time that I recall with most deep fondness, and that some part of me yearns for again, times change. More power to Dean for emphasizing the tunes, the arrangements, and the talents of his posse. Even our greatest celluloid gunslingers know that sometimes, you've just got to keep that weapon holstered to show 'em all what a real man you are.


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