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Rob Brown: Oceanic

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Rob Brown: Oceanic
Solo albums for single-line instruments such as the saxophone always present a challenge. One that many but not all rise to meet. For New York City reedman Rob Brown, Oceanic is only the second such document in a career stretching back some 35 years, following an obscure CDR-only release, Silver Sun Afternoon (Nolabel, 2003). Over that period Brown has never quite received his due, despite being one of the first names on the team sheet for a series of bassist William Parker's most celebrated vehicles such as Raining On The Moon and In Order To Survive.

Valued by illustrious peers such as pianist Matthew Shipp, trombonist Steve Swell and drummer Whit Dickey for his spellbinding saxophonics, Brown also has a string of accomplished small group leadership dates to his name. While an unaccompanied outing may not shift the dial significantly, it does shine the spotlight on Brown's ceaseless creativity, and possession of the requisite tonal command to achieve it, all in high definition. On this 2024 album, billed as a meditation on the state of our oceans, the eight pieces in the program retain an extemporized quality without clear thematic hooks.

Unlike most players who have been around this long, Brown does not rely on obvious licks. His slightly tart tone on alto saxophone gives rise to a keening cry which cuts to the quick, often shaded and colored by multiphonic overtones. In that respect he brings to mind the British saxophonist John Butcher, although Brown unequivocally operates in the adventurous jazz rather than free improv domain. Each track is characterized by an unspooling ribbon of ideas, which nonetheless retain a sense of cohesion, differentiated by his emphasis on particular aspects of his playing.

"Oversea Undersea Part 1" opens proceedings with short phrases that zigzag across the stave, before aptly moving on to foghorn blurts that at first alternate with, but are then subsumed by frayed harmonics. Although often abstract, the effect is less cerebral than visceral, conveying anguish and passion, as if sound has transmuted into pure emotion.

Notable passages are legion. Brown treats sustained notes with a wavering vibrato which suggests vulnerability on "Oversea Undersea Part 2" and issues a fine-grained chuntering stream which evokes Evan Parker on "Marine Life Encounter." Although he uses repeated figures as an engine for his invention less than most, an intermittently recurring lower register motif anchors "Tacking And Jibing," while "Gathering Breeze" concludes the album on a buoyant almost playful note.

Just under an hour of alto saxophone alone might be a stretch for some, so perhaps sampling a few portions at a time would be more palatable. But, however it is served the rewards are rich and nourishing.

Track Listing

Oversea Undersea Part 1; Oversea Undersea Part 2; Oversea Undersea Part 3; Oversea Undersea Part 4; Marine Life Encounter; Adrift; Tacking And Jibing; Gathering Breeze.

Personnel

Rob Brown
saxophone, alto

Album information

Title: Oceanic | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Rogue Art


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