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Joanne Brackeen: Pink Elephant Magic

Jack Bowers By

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This new recording showcases not one but two of Joanne Brackeen’s conspicuous talents, and is uplifted not only by her exemplary keyboard work but her persuasive writing as well. Brackeen, now some 30 years removed from her early service with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, writes with clear images in mind, and the results can be observed in such charming sound portraits as “Pink Elephant Magic,” “Ghost Butter,” “Filene’s,” “Beethoven Meets the Millennium in Spain” and “Cram ’n Exam” (a note–heavy scorcher dedicated to Brackeen’s students at the Berklee College of Music). She adds lyrics to one, “What’s Your Choice, Rolls Royce?” (sung by rising star Kurt Elling). “Beethoven,” which Brackeen composed as a class exercise with her students during a residency at the Atlantic Conference for the Arts in Florida, is delightfully quirky and evocative, while her other compositions aren’t far removed in either particular. Brackeen’s bold, two–fisted piano imparts a strong undergirding to every tune, on several of which she is joined by saxophonist Chris Potter (soprano or tenor), trumpeter Nicholas Payton, or a combination of the two (on “Pink Elephant,” “Beethoven” and “Cram ’n Exam”). Dave Liebman adds his full–bodied soprano to “Rolls Royce” and “Filene’s,” while Brackeen flies solo on Dave Brubeck’s enchanting ballad, “Strange Meadowlark.” She feeds bassist Patitucci and drummer Hernandez some elliptical and challenging rhythms and time signatures, and they never miss a beat. There are three trio numbers, “Ghost Butter,” Jobim’s “Wave” and an irresistibly jaunty rendition of the ’40s pop hit “Tico Tico.” While the supporting cast is respectable, this is undeniably Brackeen’s show, and she is well worth the price of admission.

Track listing: Pink Elephant Magic; Ghost Butter; Wave; What’s Your Choice, Rolls Royce?; Beethoven Meets the Millennium in Spain; Strange Meadowlark; Tico Tico; In Vogue; Cram ’n Exam; Filene’s (66:11).

Collective personnel: Joanne Brackeen, piano; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Chris Potter, soprano, tenor sax; David Liebman, soprano sax; Kurt Elling, vocals; John Patitucci, bass; Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, drums; Jamey Haddad, percussion.

Contact: Arkadia Entertainment, 34 E. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010 (212–533–0007; e–mail jazz@arkadiarecords.com)


Title: Pink Elephant Magic | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: MPS Records


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