Wednesday, November 28, 2007

His Name Is Alive - Sweet Earth Flower (High Two, 2007)

This album by the improvising rock collective His Name is Alive is a tribute to the music of free-jazz pioneer Marion Brown. Saxophonist Brown recorded several influential albums for ESP, Impulse! and ECM during the 1960's and 70's before become inactive recently due to health concerns. This album compiles both studio and live versions of songs by the legendary jazz saxophonist and the group is comprised of: Warn Defever on guitar and piano, Elliot Bergman on tenor saxophone, Jamie Saltsman on bass, Justin Walter on trumpet, Michael Herbst on alto saxophone, Erik Hall on electric piano and Jamie Easter, Olman Piedra and Dan Piccolo on percussion. There is a spooky and haunting opening to the album on "Sweet Earth Flying" with slow building piano and trumpet setting the stage, and elastic bass underpinning the sound. Saxophone bubbles up halfway through "Juba Lee" to give the music a focal point and building to a deep cacophony steeped in the ecstatic free jazz tradition. A live version of "Capricorn Moon" in the centerpiece of the album, featuring wonderfully moody electric guitar and pungent saxophone solos. This is a lengthy and impressive performance of one of Brown's best known themes. "November Cotton Flower" has beautiful shimmering electric piano and percussion. Erik Hall plays the Fender Rhodes with particular beauty on this track as he does throughout the album. Bergman gets a wonderful free form solo over guitar playing reminiscent of Sonny Sharrock on "Bismillahi 'Rrahmani 'Rrahim" which is a deeply spiritual blend of free jazz and abstract improvisation. Two version of Brown's "Geechee Reflections" are presented, a live version which is performed electrically with wah pedal guitar and trumpet improvising over a bed of percussion, and a studio version featuring acoustic piano. An emotional trumpet solo fuels the finale "Sweet Earth Flower" bringing the music to a thoughtful conclusion. This was a heartfelt and well done tribute, far from the rote recitation of Brown's music that might be expected. This album captures the spirit of exploration that is at the heart of jazz.

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