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Joanne Brackeen: Popsicle Illusion

AAJ Staff By

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Joanne Brackeen is an original, that's for sure. And a very talented original, needless to say. Seeming to go her own way in the inspirations for her music, she also goes her own way during a performance. It's as if she sets out with a foundation for a tune, and then anything goes as she builds the structure upon her immovable underpinnings.

Take "If I Were A Bell". Legitimized by Miles Davis as a source for jazz improvisation, Brackeen approaches the tune sideways, doing the tintinnabulation thing at the beginning, but then striding through the song in 7/4 like a seven-legged arachnid. Throwing us, the listener, off balance. Playing games with us. Referring to the familiar while altering it ever so slightly to force us, the listener, to assume a new perspective.

The CD "Popsicle Illusion" was a long time a-coming. Not because Brackeen hasn't been recording. She recorded "Pink Elephant Magic" on Arkadia just last year.

No, Brackeen hasn't applied her considerable talents to the production of a solo album since she herself kicked off Concord's Maybeck series a mere eleven years ago.

Through simplicity comes the complexity of Brackeen's imagination. No arrangements; no horns. And yet the opposing meters, alternating melodies and conflicting cultural references of "Telavivision" are so difficult that her performance seems almost unable to be notated.

Brackeen's touch, force, energy and, well, wackiness, make her one of the leading, and most enjoyable, jazz pianists on the scene. Compare the tenderness and harmonic richness of her version of "Michelle" with the metrical slipperiness of the tune "Popsicle Illusion". It becomes obvious Brackeen contains virtually a bottomless source of ideas, and yet a confidence in execution, that lead to an inimitable personalized style.

Ending with Brackeen's recorded interview with producer Bob Karcy—which seems to have provided the literal material for the liner notes—"Popsicle Illusion" allows the listener to discover yet another facet of Brackeen's glow while marveling at the technical mastery that makes it all possible.

Title: Popsicle Illusion | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: MPS Records

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