One of the benefits of our digital music world is the ability to drive deeply into the jazz narrative. By that I mean, preserving the story of important musicians, the ones whose story was omitted from the Ken Burns' CliffsNotes history of jazz. Without a few labels and several producers, musicians like Bobby Naughton
, Clifford Thornton
, Jacques Coursil
, and Marion Brown
, might be lost forever. Well, at least to those of us who aren't avid crate digging vinyl freaks. Live at the Black Musicians' Conference, 1981
is not a re-issue of a long lost LP, but a time capsule sent to the future (now) to awaken adventurous listeners to music's rich history. The setting was a week-long collection of workshops, concerts, lectures at UMass Amherst coordinated by Archie Shepp
and Roman Wiggins. The opening concert was this duo between Marion Brown and Dave Burrell
who was a substitute for Hilton Ruiz. The pianist was not just any old stand-in. Burrell and Brown had a history together, recording together on Brown's now classic Three For Shepp
(Impulse!, 1967), and the long out-of-print Juba-Lee
(Fontana, 1967), and Live In Japan
(DIW, 1983). In between Burrell's early years in New York performing fire music with Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders
and this 1981 date, the pianist had steeped himself in the jazz tradition. He was just as comfortable with the music of Jelly Roll Morton
as that of Cecil Taylor
. Later he would go on to record exceptional music with saxophonist David Murray, and today has become a 21st century jazz patriarch.
This live recording is analogous to the classic session Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
(Impulse!, 1963), if not only because the pair cover two Billy Strayhorn
compositions, "My Little Brown Book" and "Lush Life," but because they take it upon themselves to project maximum warmth with this music. The Strayhorn songs are cradled lovingly and performed as if the two had nothing to prove to each other or the audience. Indeed, they didn't.
The theme constant here is a musical gentleness. Brown's "Gossip/Fortunado" is a vehicle of investigation and interplay. Brown provides momentum and Burrell accompanies, filling and expanding the spaces the music allows. The pianist draws as much from Morton as he does from Monk and Duke here, a fitting complement to Brown's matured and delicate tone. Even though both of these musicians had their sound forged in the 1960's New York free jazz fires, this reunion opted for a suspension of hostilities.