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Marion Brown: Why Not?

Jerry D'Souza By

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Alto saxophonist Marion Brown came off playing with John Coltrane on Ascension (Impulse!, 1965) when he recorded two albums for ESP Disk. On the first, his eponymous 1966 release, the music was fiery and free-wheeling, underscoring Brown's presence as a potent improviser.

His second, Why Not?, saw him take a more altruistic approach. He moved away from the semantics of the first album, where he used two bassists—Ronnie Boykins and Reggie Johnson—to a conventional quartet with bassist Norris "Sirone" Jones, the ever-inventive pianist Stanley Cowell, and drummer Rashied Ali, who was also part of the Brown's first group.

Marked by diversity, the music creates a remarkable ode to Brown's strengths as an expressionist. He is at ease caressing a melody or making it dance and then taking it out into terrains of intense invention. As well, his ability to channel freedom into several avenues without losing his grasp is made manifest all over again. The combined power is pure joy with "Homecoming" and the title track being the perfect portraits of these twin traits.

The melody of "Homecoming" is defined by a martial beat. Brown is the progenitor, but Cowell is the first to take it out, feeding on the rich pastures of his imagination, ideas jumping out of his harmonic plain. Brown's coiling phrases shift pulse and timbre but he never lets the melody out of his grasp, filtering both nuance and dimension. Even Ali gets into the groove, with paradiddles and accents that stamp the rhythmic flow.

In contrast, "Why Not?" is a cauldron of volatility and turbulence. Brown lays a clarion call on the line and the rest respond. Out come the dynamic impulses in the whip of the bass, the quicksilver tap of the drums and the restless thrust of the piano. The tempest continues to be stirred by Brown in a maelstrom of surging intonation that catapults fluidly into a crystalline upper register.

Brown broadened the dimensions, but he never compromised his artistic ideals. Why Not? proves that, in full measure—evidence of Brown's stature as a formidable figure in the pantheon of jazz.


Track Listing: La Sorrella; Fortunato; Why Not?; Homecoming.

Personnel: Marion Brown: alto saxophone; Stanley Cowell: piano; Norris "Sirone" Jones: bass; Rashied Ali: drums.

Title: Why Not? | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ESP Disk


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