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Marion Brown: Three For Shepp To Gesprachsfetzen Revisited

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: Marion Brown: Three For Shepp To Gesprachsfetzen Revisited
"It is often those we hear the least that we should listen to the most." So wrote the Guadeloupean pianist Jonathan Jurion on the release of his album Le Temps Fou: The Music Of Marion Brown (Komos, 2019).

Just why Marion Brown has become such a rarely acknowledged figure is unclear. He possessed all the qualifications needed to go large plus a few extras for good measure. He was a good-looking man. He dressed well (telling Dave Burrell "to play pretty you have to look pretty"). He had a nice line in media-friendly aphorisms generally (saying of John Coltrane's 1966 Impulse! album Ascension "you could use this record to heat up your apartment on a cold morning"}. The camera liked him. So by all accounts did women. He released fifteen well-received albums as leader during his first decade on record (two on ESP-Disk, four on Impulse!, one on ECM, an impressive threesome) and carried on recording frequently into the mid 1990s, when ill-health began to take its toll.

Most importantly, though he was adept at free improvisation, Brown was also at home with consonance, structured composition and modal and melodic forms of improvisation. Even at his most abrasively intense, he was never more "difficult" than, say, his brothers in arms Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor, whose names are recognised by uncounted numbers of people who have never actually heard their music, only the shrill cries of their detractors. So why is Brown so often left out of the post-Coltrane pantheon and feted only by connoisseurs?

The reason for Brown's neglect is perhaps because in a complicated world people crave simplicity, demarcations and straight lines. While there is nothing forbiddingly complex about Brown's legacy, its rainbow nature resists the easy categorisation so beloved of critics. Brown saw no contradiction between feeding the fires on Ascension and taking the starring role on his friend Harold Budd's glacially serene song-cycle The Pavilion Of Dreams (Editions EG, 1978).

Brown's own work, too, was unfettered and diverse. On albums such as Three For Shepp (Impulse!, 1967), for instance, he mixed bravura free improvisation with elegant balladry; on the triptych Afternoon Of A Georgia Faun (ECM, 1970) / Geechee Recollections (Impulse!, 1973) / Sweet Earth Flying (Impulse!, 1974) he explored west African and southern US folk forms to create an ethnomusicological autobiography the like of which we would not hear again until Matana Roberts' Coin Coin series (Constellation, 2011-23 and ongoing), which by cosmic coincidence Roberts began recording in 2010, the year Brown passed; on Vista (Impulse!, 1975) and Reeds 'N Vibes (Improvising Artists, 1978), co-led with Gunter Hampel, he explored textural and borderline-ambient territories. The list goes on. No straight lines anywhere.

More than this, unlike his contemporary Pharoah Sanders, who also moved on from his shock 'n' awe calling card, Brown did not replace one stylistic approach with a new one, reinventing himself in the process. Instead he added each new paradigm to the existing ones. His style did not so much change as accumulate. No doubt if Brown had emerged in the 21st century, a Dark Side record label would have advised him to keep his brand identity one-dimensional.

Brown was already defying categorisation in 1966 when he recorded Three For Shepp, whose six tracks open Three For Shepp To Gespächsfetzen Revisited. Brown's opening "New Blues" and Shepp's closing "Delicado," though compelling, are relatively orthodox expressions of mid 1960s New Thing. The four tracks they bookend, however, are distinctive even today in 2024. Brown's exquisite "Fortunato," though it sounds like nothing Pharoah Sanders ever wrote, inhabits similarly pretty terrain as Sanders' 1967 Impulse! astral-jazz manifesto, Tauhid's, "Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt" and "Japan." Of the Shepp tunes, "West India," with its Caribbean flourishes and calypsonian alto solo, is a first taste of what would become an ongoing strand in Brown's music.

Multi-instrumentalist Gunter Hampel—billed as co-leader with Brown on the 1968 edition of Gespächsfetzen (Calig)—is another wayward one-off who deserves to be listened to more often. His 1965 album Heartplants (SABA) was among the earliest fully realised recordings of European free jazz, and in 1966 he was among the first European musicians to notch up a release on ESP-Disk. In 1968, in Paris, he played on Brown's Le Temps Fou (Polydor). The same month, in Munich, the pair recorded Gespächsfetzen (which translates as "a scrap of conversation"). Brown's abandoned solo on the title track and proto-skronk romp on "Exhibit A" are among the highlights and Hampel's textural inventions, on vibraphone and bass clarinet, are a joy throughout.

Brown and Hampel titled what would be their final album, Gemini (Birth) because by 1993 they regarded themselves as twins, despite the ethno-cultural differences which could have divided them. Explained Hampel in a recent interview: "Jazz exists in this world so that things become clear."


Liner Notes copyright © 2024 Chris May.

Three For Shepp To Gesprachsfetzen Revisited can be purchased here.

Chris May Contact Chris May at All About Jazz.
Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.

Track Listing

New Blue; Fortunato; The Shadow Knows; Spooks; West India; Delicado; Gesprachsfetzen; Exhibit A; Babudah; Tomorrow Is The Beginning Of The End Of Yesterday; Aba.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Gunter Hampel: vibraphone and bass clarinet.

Album information

Title: Three For Shepp To Gesprachsfetzen Revisited | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Ezz-thetics


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