DUETS (Arista Freedom 1904)
Marion Brown / alto saxophone, clarinet, piano, percussion; Leo Smith (Sides 1 & 2 only) / trumpet, percussion; Elliott Schwartz (Sides 3 & 4 only) / piano, arp synthesizer, percussion, misc. Recorded: Sides 1 & 2: May 12, 1970 in Paris, France. Tracks: Centering [1:12] (Leo Smith), Njung-Lumumba Malcolm [18:05] (Leo Smith), And Then They Danced [16:05] (Marion Brown), Rhythmus [3:30] (Leo Smith, Marion Brown). Sides 3 & 4: February 18, 1973 Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, USA (live) Tracks: Soundways [19:33] (Marion Brown, Elliott Schwartz), Soundways Part 2 [20:14] (Marion Brown, Elliott Schwartz)
At a time when Brown’s contemporaries (Ayler, Shepp, Sanders) were making their most important musical statements, Brown seemed still to be searching for a suitable stylistic context. And in contrast to what seems to be the general rule for creative artists, his early work is not his best.
It is not, in fact, until Gesprächsfetzen (Calig, recorded 1968), one of Brown’s most important recordings ever, that there is a sense that his pure-toned impressionism has finally been properly show-cased. Significantly, it draws more on the aesthetic sense then being put forth in Chicago (and Brown makes his own unique contribution to that aesthetic) than on the demands of the New York “energy” schools.
On his next album, and again one of his most significant, Afternoon of a Georgia Faun (ECM), Brown works at extending that sense, but he himself is cast in a more supportive role. This is a truly historic record, however; though not so much for “Georgia Faun” as for “Djinji’s Corner.” The latter, which Brown describes as “a piece of musical recreation,” is a freely improvised composition, structured in such a way (each musician moving to a new “musical station” every minute) as to all but prevent the dominance of any single idea or of any one player. In its superb balance between individual and collective elements, “Djinji’s Corner” stands as something of a culmination of the direction in which free music had been moving in the Sixties; in that, it stands alongside Free Jazz, Ascension, and New York Eye and Ear Control as a landmark (the most fully realized aesthetically) of free group improvisation. (”Djinji’s Corner” might likewise be said to keynote the direction much of the music would take in the Seventies – the path of spontaneous free improvisation – its explicit structural necessities now becoming more shared and intuitive.)
On Duets, Brown is featured on a recording with Leo Smith (which pre-dates Georgia Faun by a couple of months) and one with Elliott Schwartz (from the period of Geechee Recollections, Impulse). Both contexts have more to do with building musical architecture than with overwhelming the listener with sound, and they suit Brown’s conceptual needs well. On the record with Leo Smith, one is mostly struck by Smith’s compositions (which emerge as multi-directed fragments with any number of implications for improvisation) and by Leo’s actual playing. To grasp the great depth of Smith’s improvisational approach, one might compare his solo on “Dance” to that of Brown’s which precedes it. Both men work from the same rhythmic motif, but while Brown tends to take the motif at face value, letting it build its own inner tension, Smith all but destroys its rather obvious harmonic sense and, by largely spatial means, entirely dislocates it rhythmically. Smith’s work has scarcely been dealt with by anyone, but it is highly original and innovative and deserves a much closer look than it has thus far been given. His playing is perhaps the main reason that this date with Marion Brown is of such great interest.
The record with Elliott Schwartz is a first meeting between Brown and Schwartz, and it is a free improvising situation. Schwartz, who is most well known as a composer, proves not only a sympathetic partner for Marion but a creative and adept improviser. It is a moving collaboration that grows organically through a maze of sounds and textures and is held together at its edges by Brown’s lyric alto. There’s also some particularly fine clarinet work by Brown. Neither of these recordings is quite as significant as that of Gesprächsfetzen or Georgia Faun, but they hold up well under repeated listening. They are also of much greater interest than Brown’s recent Impulse recordings, an exception perhaps being Geechee Recollections.
Henry Kuntz, 1976
selected Marion Brown recordings
Marion Brown biography:
Marion Brown (born 8 September 1935 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA) is a jazz alto-saxophonist and ethnomusicologist.
Brown studied music education, political science, and history at Clark College and Howard University. He played in an army band, before heading to New York in 1957. It was here that he became involved in the free jazz movement, playing on early free jazz albums such as Archie Shepp’s Fire Music and John Coltrane’s Ascension. In the mid-1960s he travelled to Europe where he developed an interest in African music. He returned to the US in 1970, where he began teaching and studying linguistics and composition.
He has also performed with Harold Budd, John Fischer and Gunter Hampel.