PORTO NOVO (Arista AL 1001)
Marion Brown / alto saxophone; Maarten Van Regteren Altena / bass; Han Bennink / drums. Recorded: December 13, 1967, Soest, The Netherlands
Tracks: 1. Similar Limits [6:25] (Marion Brown), 2. Sound Structure [6:10] (Marion Brown), 3. Improvisation [5:50] (Marion Brown), 4. QBIC [6:32] (Marion Brown), 5. Porto Novo [11:55] (Marion Brown). Recorded: May 12, 1970, Paris, France, 6. And Then They Danced [16:05] (Marion Brown), 7. Rhythmus No. 1 [3:30] (Leo Smith, Marion Brown)
While it may be overshadowed by the other Arista releases, Marion Brown’s Porto Novo is an excellent record, one which is nearly as appealing in its own way as the spectacular Ayler Vibrations. For while Brown was hardly one of the giants of the Sixties, his was and is a strongly individual voice, usually heard in tantalizingly small doses as a soloist, as on Coltrane’s Ascension or Shepp’s Fire Music, or even on some of his own records, like Afternoon of a Georgia Faun (ECM) and Why Not? (ESP). In view of Brown’s willingness to stand out of the spotlight, his forthright blowing on Porto Novo may surprise those who didn’t hear the original release of this material on Polydor. He certainly has the ability to fit, chameleon-like, into a variety of situations unlike some stronger voices who tend to play pretty much the same way regardless of the setting.
The Porto Novo session actually left Brown no choice but to come up front and display his individual strengths to their fullest; not only because it is a trio date, but also because of the constant conceptual tension between Brown and Han Bennink who is caught fascinatingly midway between the derivative bebopper of Dolphy’s Last Date (1964) and the fully-armed genius of Topography of the Lungs (1970).
The differences of style can be stated geographically. Bennink is a European drummer who has constructed, amazingly, an approach to percussion as convincing as any contemporary American stylist, but from his own sources. Brown, of course, is from Atlanta, Ga., and demonstrates a deep sense of his own roots in his playing. The contrasting approaches work together in interesting ways: a final balance is achieved even though at times the juxtaposition seems to underline the differences between the two men. Bassist Altena responds to the impulses from both sides and helps hold together a session that comes off beautifully for all the divergent ideas.
Porto Novo is probably the most far reaching statement of Brown the altoist. All the aspects of his individual personality are revealed – what possibly impresses the most is the way Brown can move subtly from one kind of feeling to another yet hold it all together.
The title track, for example, is both an exposition of the high humor of “Homecoming” from Why Hot? and the evocation of the natural world of which Georgia Faun is the ultimate statement. If you have enjoyed any of Brown’s playing on other records, you will want this.
Richard Baker, 1975
some other Porto Novo releases:
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.