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Alex Brown: Pianist

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Even for a pianist with as prodigious a talent as Alex Brown, having a heavyweight in the music pantheon such as Paquito D'Rivera produce the debut album, must have largely been a dream. However, to pull off a debut as fine as this is a feat in itself. As a pianist, Brown has remarkable technique. Although he may still be searching for his true voice and that may take time, he appears to be closer than most. He is truly expressive and has an expansive sense of time. Brown's sense of the acute and obtuse accents of a melody is rivaled only by his sense of how to lay down a surprising harmony. With his strong left hand, playing seemingly every kind of rhythmic figure almost at will, Brown can create memorable phrases, sometimes creating surprise with a classic Afro-Cuban tumbao, as much by conjuring up a contradanza, or even a valse. And then he can swing and bop too.

On the album, simply entitled Pianist, Brown serves notice that he is well on the way to being a leader around which musicians will rally. He is never overawed especially by the presence of such mighty musicians as D'Rivera—whose classically sharp alto and woody clarinet graces several tracks—and he even gives breathtaking percussionist Pedro "Pedrito" Martinez good reason to believe that he can shuffle that rumba tempo with swaggering confidence. Latin American musical idioms seem to be Brown's strong suit here, and the gentle Bossa Nova swing that he introduces in "Lamentos," with seeming casual grace, is, indeed, a perfect example of how proficiently he captures the idiom, before breaking up the song midway, only to return it to a much brisker samba rhythm; it appears that Brown is a special kind of maestro, when it comes to rhythms.

Then there is the devastatingly beautiful drama of his "Buleria," a crackling chart written in the style of that memorable dance form from Cadiz, Spain, and the manner in which he lets his hands chase one another, as he hammers out melody and chords, recreating the spirit of the locale. He similarly recreates the spirit of Chick Corea's rapid modal moves in "Elektric," extraordinarily precise and controlled, while "Waltz" pirouettes with classic grace, as the all-too-alive characters glide eloquently across the floor.

There is a back story here, and it is one of great promise. Not only does Brown rally his musicians—especially the young ones: trumpeter Vivek Patel; bassist Ben Williams; drummer Eric Doob; and marimbaist Warren Wolf—but he also draws experienced men like D'Rivera and Martinez into original compositions that are compact, yet roomy enough for galactic leaps, as the men improvise. It appears that not only is Brown the pianist about to arrive, but Brown the composer is not far behind at all.

Track Listing: Prologue; Warm Blooded; The Wrong Jacket; Lamentos; Elektric; Waltz; Buleria; Leaving; Just One of Those Things.

Personnel: Alex Brown: piano; Paquito D'Rivera: alto saxophone, clarinet; Vivek Patel: flugelhorn; Warren Wolf: marimba; Ben Williams: contrabass; Eric Doob: drums; Pedro Martinez: percussion, vocals.

Title: Pianist | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


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