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George Braith: The Complete Blue Note Sessions

David Adler By

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George Braith is not as widely known as Roland Kirk, but he too made indisputably musical sounds playing two horns simultaneously. He in fact played one of Kirk’s signature instruments, the stritch (a type of straight alto), often in tandem with the soprano. This Blue Note reissue combines the three albums Braith made for the label between 1963 and 1965: Two Souls In One, Soul Stream, and Extension. Braith, guitarist Grant Green, and organist Billy Gardner appear on all three albums, but the drummers change every time. They are Donald Bailey, Hugh Walker, and Clarence Johnson, respectively.

Braith’s two-horn work is showcased mainly on the first album. It’s a quasi-primitive affair that opens with the Rollins-esque calypso "Mary Ann" and goes on to include a lovely "Poinciana" and a swinging (yes, swinging) "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Perhaps this last is Braith’s answer to Trane’s "Inchworm," recorded the previous year. The album ends with "Braith-A-Way," thirteen-plus minutes of brooding, non-resolving harmony with solos over a repeated rhythmic motif. Soul Stream kicks off with an unusual version of "The Man I Love." The title track, a haunting rubato tribute to the late JFK, is Braith at his most inspired. Wisely, this track was picked to end disc one; to segue straight into the lively "Boop Bop Bing Bash" would have been jarring. Braith also puts his oddball spin on the William Tell Overture, titling it "Billy Told" and transforming it into a modified rhythm changes with a minor-key bridge. Extension begins with the fast waltz "Nut City." It also includes the ballad "Ethlyn’s Love," the angular "Out Here," the minor blowing vehicle "Extension," and the soulfully swinging "Sweetville." Braith ends the album with an up-tempo version of Cole Porter’s "Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye," opting to give the tender melody the two-horn treatment.

Perhaps it was inevitable that George Braith would be overshadowed by Roland Kirk, but his compositional gifts and strong playing deserve greater appreciation. In addition, these are also essential Grant Green dates, doubly so considering the presence of the organ.

Title: The Complete Blue Note Sessions | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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