Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brownie: The Complete Emarcy Recordings of Clifford Brown (Emarcy, 1989)

I was really surprised and excited when I saw a used copy of this extensive boxed set on sale at the Princeton Record Exchange for the princely sum of $24.99. The discs were scuffed and the labels were starting to bubble just a bit, but the discs are still very playable, so it was an amazing bargain. Trumpeter Clifford Brown was like a short lived comet that flashed across the jazz skies in the first part of the 1950's before passing tragically young (like other trumpet pioneers Fats Navarro, Booker Little and Lee Morgan.) Although he was active for only a few years, Brown left an astonishing amount of music on many formats. After recording as a leader and a sideman for Blue Note Records in the early part of the 1950's, he moved to the Emarcy label in 1953, co-leading a group with the great drummer Max Roach, and developing one of the most immediately identifiable hard bop sounds in jazz. Working with saxophonists Harold Land and later Sonny Rollins, the Brown-Roach Quintet made a series of records that were massively influential to future generations of jazz musicians and remain so today. But Brown didn't just record in a straight up jazz setting, as seen on this set he was a very sensitive and supportive accompanist for vocalists like Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Helen Merril. In this set we hear Brown in a number of different settings: blowing on standards in a quintet, playing in jam sessions, supporting vocalists and even playing with a string section. It's an amazingly varied body of work for just over three years of time for a young musician in his mid twenties. The music on here is at a very high level throughout, Brown sounds completely confident and full of ideas no matter what the setting. There are multiple takes of some tracks, which will certainly be on interest to musical scholars and trumpet players researching Brown's method of approaching improvisation. But the music remains fresh throughout the set, and is a wonderful treat to listen to. This extensive set in now out of print, but Hip-O has recently released a four disc set of the Emarcy Master Takes, and verve has several single discs that cover this period. Brownie - amazon.com

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