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His Name Is Alive: Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute To Marion Brown

Chris May By

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Starting with a bold and beautiful idea—to perform a concert tribute to an iconic musician from an earlier age while that musician is still with us—His Name Is Alive have gone on to record an album of such oh-my-god beauty and vitality that the listener may at first be reduced to silent, slack-jawed wonder. And while we'll never know whether trumpeter Miles Davis would have approved bassist/producer Bill Laswell's reconstruction of his music on Panthalassa (Columbia, 1997), we do know that alto saxophonist Marion Brown loves Sweet Earth Flower, which he has warmly endorsed.

Brown, born in Atlanta in 1935, came to notice in New York in the mid 1960s as a member of the emergent free jazz movement. He played on one of that school's most uncompromising discs, saxophonist John Coltrane's Ascension (Impulse!, 1965), and went on to record similarly abrasive albums of his own for the ESP label.

But as with his near contemporaries, the saxophonists Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders, a prettier and more lyrical strand has always co-existed in Brown's music. This is particularly true of his composing, which began to be enriched in the 1970s by his interest in African, and other non-European derived, musics. It is to Brown's magical and restorative, tuneful songbook rather than his free improvising adventures that Sweet Earth Flower pays most attention.

Guitarist/pianist Warn Defever's extraordinary His Name Is Alive, here augmented by members of fellow Michigan, nouveau Afro-funk band Nomo, present Brown's work as a suite, with each track morphing or being mixed into the next. The atmosphere is simultaneously retro—with its powerful evocations of Pharoah Sanders' and harpist/pianist Alice Coltrane's late 1960s, percussion-rich, incense and bells astral jazz—and new millennial—elegantly travelling alongside post-modern, post-jam band groups like Mushroom and Mysteries Of The Revolution. Trippy, African-derived drum and percussion passages alternate with robust trumpet, multiphonic tenor saxophone, and fuzzed-up, fed-back and otherwise distorted electric guitar improvisations, the latter referencing equal quantities of Larry Coryell and Sonny Sharrock. Every second is a delight.

In his endorsement, Brown pays HNIA the ultimate compliment: "You really understand me." An under-the-skin devotional masterpiece, Sweet Earth Flower is a thing of rare beauty, and not to be missed.


Track Listing: Sweet Earth Flying; Juba Lee Brown; Capricorn Moon (live); November Cotton Flower; Bismillah 'Rrahmani 'Rrahim; Geechee Recollections (live); Geechee Recollections; Sweet Earth Flying (live).

Personnel: Warn Defever: guitar, piano; Elliot Bergman: tenor saxophhone, Rhodes piano; Jamie Saltsman: double bass; Justin Walter: trumpet; James Easter: percussion; Dan Piccolo: drums, percussion; Michael Herbst: alto saxophone; Erik Hall: Wurlitzer electric piano; Olman Piedra: congas, cajon.

Title: Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute To Marion Brown | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: High Two Recordings


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