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Rob Brown: Unknown Skies

John Sharpe By

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Each year alto saxophonist Rob Brown brings a project to NYC's annual Vision Festival. Among the most raw and compelling was this stellar trio, featuring pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Nasheet Waits, which graced the 2009 gathering but had gone unrecorded, until now. Fortunately the voguish Paris-based Rogue Art imprint has issued a fine live recording from the 2010 Sons d'hiver festival in that city, which regularly presents highlights from the New York jamboree.

His chosen format echoes Cecil Taylor's classic unit from the 1960s and early '70s, and Alexander von Schlippenbach's subsequent long-lasting threesome with saxophonist Evan Parker, in forgoing a bassist—a decision vindicated by the rhythmic drive of his colleagues.

Brown has picked his partners well. Taborn, for who 2011 already represents a red letter period, with an acclaimed one-man album, Avenging Angel (ECM) and collective outing with Farmers By Nature, Out Of This World's Distortions (Aum Fidelity), again demonstrating why so many people want him on their dates: his two handed independence gives the illusion of multiple participants, each blessed with syncopated wit, whether shading with a bluesy tinge or belaying darting dissonance atop a bass register thunder. On drums, Waits—who has staked his place in avant improvising ensembles through his duets with Peter Brötzmann and role in Tony Malaby's Tamarindo—adds authoritative percussive wisdom which both anchors and propels, maintaining a lurching forward motion, born of a righteous combination of drum rolls and pulsing clatter.

Brown revels in the license to roam, engendered by Taborn and Waits' intersecting lines. One of that select band of instrumentalists, whose soloing isn't dependent on repeated motifs as much as a constantly unfurling narrative, the reedman thrills with his sustained brilliance. It's an impression complemented by his tart brittle tonality which hovers perpetually on the edge of fragmenting into split-tone shards, creating a stream of distorted, impassioned beauty.

Brown's compositions allow ample opportunity for expression. Waits introduces "A Fine Line" with rumbling polyrhythms, before a typically knotty elongated unison. Increasingly dense interaction pushes the leader to the extremes, in contrast to the initially more restrained ballad of the title track. It starts on tiptoe but finishes as a march, by way of a monster Taborn exposition which draws inspiration from Brown's composed line. "Bounce Back" boasts an unusual structure, beginning with an alto/drums duet which features increasingly frenetic oratory, which leads to a staccato theme, followed by a another piano tour de force, gaining momentum like an express train until a welter of notes are flying from the keyboard. Most likely the encore, the spontaneously scripted "Temerity" denotes a mercurial three-part invention which evolves into a devil-take-the-hindmost dash for the finishing tape. But by close of play everyone is a winner on this splendid disc, which ranks among Brown's finest.

Track Listing: A Fine Line; Unknown Skies; Bounce Back; The Upshot; Temerity.

Personnel: Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Nasheet Waits: drums.

Title: Unknown Skies | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Rogueart Records

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