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Oscar Brown Jr.: We're Live

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Today's musicians—and anyone with an interest in things jazz and the pre-Hip-Hop/Rap African-American musical and cultural experience—might want to examine the life, times, music and impact of Oscar Brown, Jr. Brown distinguished himself brilliantly in multiple worlds—musical, literary, political, theatrical and television. And he did it all, weaving a passion for life, America's art form and civil rights throughout each entertainment dimension.

We're Live, recorded in 2001 at Chicago's HotHouse for International Performance, captures Brown, his vocalist daughters Maggie and Africa, and a superb rhythm section. Together they deliver an array of reworked bebop classics and Brown originals. The result is not only a portrait in Brown, but, a lasting testament to an incredibly gifted jazz talent.

As vocalist, Brown's raw energy and emotional fire supersede his voice proper. He swings heavy and hard. A thunderer when lyric or melody require ("Bird Chase"), he's also masculine tender ("Old Lover's Song"). Providing a jazz history lesson, Brown also deftly delivers pungent and poignant original lyrics (vocalese) to some of jazz's most seminal compositions (Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight"), all the while paying homage to the greats that originally penned or played them—Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

Maggie Brown's vocal chops are excellent as well. She has a beautiful, sensitive voice and, like the tree from which she sprang, demonstrates abundant energy and theatrical presence ("Strongman" and "Bobo," Oscar Brown III's "Insight"). Paraphrasing another unrelated Brown—trumpeter Clifford Brown—she's a "joy swing."

The performance swings heavily, due as much to the frontline as to the terrific rhythm section that senses that jazz gravitas stands before them. Pianist Miguel de la Cerna, bassist Yoseph Ben Israel and drummer Avreeyal Ra keep things high-energy throughout ("All Blues").

While this was Brown's last recording before he passed in 2005—and incorporated the Family Brown, as well as five additional unrelated ladies named Brown on one cut— We're Live stands as an inspiring performance and important representation of one of jazz's most talented artists.

Track Listing: Introductions; Young Jazz; Bird to Word - Billie Brown's Bounce; Bird Chase; Midnight (On This Beach; A Tree and Me; All Blues Medley; Strongman; Insight; When Malindy Sings; All Over (Ode Owed Youth); My Little Maggie; Brown Baby; Old Lover's Song.

Personnel: Oscar Brown, Jr.: vocals; Maggie Brown: vocals; Africa Pace Brown: vocals (7,9); Miguel de la Cerna: piano (1-13); Aaron Graves: piano (14); Yoseph Ben Israel: upright bass; Avreeyal Ra: drums; "TreSure" - (Angela, Cheryl, Cassandra and Caroline Brown): vocals (9).

Title: We're Live | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: ESP Disk

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