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Marion Brown: Why Not? Porto Novo! Revisited

Chris May By

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Marion Brown: Why Not? Porto Novo! Revisited
Alto saxophonist Marion Brown was part of the band on John Coltrane's Ascension (Impulse, 1965), though you would not guess it from Why Not (ESP, 1968). Like fellow Ascension alumnus, tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders' contemporaneous Tauhid (Impulse, 1967), Brown's album inhabited an intensely melodic section of the 1960s' New Thing.

As were Sanders' own-name releases from 1967 onwards, Brown's work was deeply lyrical and embraced South Asian, Maghrebi and West African instruments and constructs. As bandleaders, the two players operated at the far end of the New Thing spectrum to the so-called "energy" saxophonists who followed, lamely, in Albert Ayler's wake.

Why Not was recorded in late October 1966, Tauhid just three weeks later. Their points of contact are particularly marked on the opening tracks. Brown's "La Sorella" and Sanders' "Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt" employ similar arrangements and both project uplifting, mellifluous vibes, roughed up around the edges with vocalized tones and broken notes. Both are bedded on quietly insistent grooves. Brown's pianist Stanley Cowell and Sanders' pianist Dave Burrell essay slightly trippy intros before the leaders take things out.

This reissue of Why Not in ezz-thetics' Revisited series is coupled with Porto Novo (Polydor, 1969), which Brown recorded in The Netherlands with Dutch bassist Maarten Van Regeteren Altena and drummer Han Bennink. That album is pretty much as sublime as Why Not and the pairing is testament to ezz-thetics' founder Werner X. Uehlinger's curatorial touch. Another harmonious pairing is Brown's Capricorn Moon To Juba Lee Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2019), which packages all but four minutes of Marion Brown Quartet (ESP, 1966), made with a pianoless quartet including trumpeter Alan Shorter, with side two of the septet album Juba-Lee (Fontana, 1967), made with Shorter, trombonist Grachan Moncur III and tenor saxophonist Bennie Maupin (the pianist is Dave Burrell from the aforementioned Tauhid).

Both Revisited albums have been sensitively remastered. As many of us have learnt to our cost, a remaster may not always be an improvement on the original edition. Rudy Van Gelder's digital-age remasters of his work for Prestige and Blue Note demonstrate the extent to which a gifted engineer can enhance audio quality. Peter Pfister's ezz-thetics remasters are of the same order of efficacy. The Revisited series is solid gold; avant-garde treasures from the 1960s are in safe hands.

Track Listing

La Sorella; Fortunato; Why Not; Homecoming; Similar Limits; Sound Structure; Improvisation; QBIC; Porto Novo.

Personnel

Marion Brown: saxophone, alto; Stanley Cowell: piano; Sirone: bass, acoustic; Maarten Altena: bass, acoustic; Rashied Ali: drums; Han Bennink: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Marion Brown: alto saxophone; Stanley Cowell: piano (1-4); Norris “Sirone” Jones: double bass (1-4); Maarten Van Regteren Altena: double bass (5-9); Rashied Ali: drums (1-4); Han Bennink: drums (5-9).

Album information

Title: Why Not? Porto Novo! Revisited | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Ezz-thetics

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