Saturday, March 4, 2017

Marion Brown - Solo Saxophone

Alto saxophonist and composer Marion Brown (1931-2010) was born and raised in Atlanta; he attended Clark College, an HBCU, before enrolling in Howard University and subsequently moving to New York, where he became part of the avant-garde jazz scene. He was mentored by Archie Shepp, and played on John Coltrane's monumental Ascension album. He spent time in Europe, put out some great albums, and taught at Bowdoin College. Like many avant-gardists, his output became somewhat more conservative as he got older, but it always sounded personal and striking.

Solo Saxophone documents a 1977 concert at Environ in New York City, issued on Sweet Earth Records. The label was apparently inspired by Brown; it's named after one of his compositions, "Sweet Earth Flying." Sweet Earth only put out five albums, but two of them are Brown-related, this one and an album of Amina Claudine Myers playing Brown's music on piano.

The music from this solo concert is excellent, and well-recorded and pressed, too. It's hard for an improvising wind player to keep things interesting when playing solo, but Brown does just that, largely by frequent references to the melody (or other distinctive elements) of each piece, so that his improvising relates strongly to the composed elements. And each piece has its own flavor, which Brown sustains throughout. There's been no reissue of this one, so if you see a copy, grab it.

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