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Saturday, December 23, 2023

Rob Brown - Oceanic (Rogueart, 2023)

By Gregg Miller

A solo alto sax record from Rob Brown is very, very welcome, and a long time coming. If you know his playing, it is everything and more than you’d expect, minus the little heads and outros he uses to organize his compositions. Here we get only the inside game. Each of these pieces is a pattern study, very classical in its way, but also very out.

Rob Brown’s tone is immediately identifiable—dry and insistent, commanding the tone center, but ready to push his alto to its edges. The playing exhibits tremendous focus and concentration. Brown studies the logical puzzles of intervals. He moves at the speed of logic, and this includes half-tones, quarter tones and split tones as part of his sound palette. All of his lines sing songs, but his songs are not the blues. They feel like the play between sense-making and the disorder that fuels the quest for ordering, giving voice and respect to that disorder, too.

The record title Oceanic, and the track titles are all nautical, though I don’t get a very “wet” sense to any of what he plays. If there’s a link to the sea in the sounds Brown makes here, it’s like handling a delicate, intricate sea shell: dry as bone, though a creature of the sea.

The final tune, Gathering Breeze, has a somewhat different air: just a hint of swing, a gesture toward sentimentality. Just a hint, though. 

A major figure in the New York avant scene, Brown has played on so many crucial records over the last 3 decades, often with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Whit Dickey and/or Steve Swell. If you don’t know his work, here is just a handful to get your ears wet:

Rob Brown Quartet - The Big Picture (Marge, 2003) with Roy Campbell, William Parker and Hamid Drake.

Rob Brown Ensemble - Crown Trunk Root Funk (AUM Fidelity, 2008) with Craig Taborn, William Parker and Gerald Cleaver.

Rob Brown Trio - Breath Rhyme (Silkheart, 1989) with William Parker and Dennis Charles.

Whit Dickey Trio - Expanding Light (Tao Forms, 2020) with Brandon Lopez.

Rob Brown - Unexplained Phenomenon (Marge, 2010) live at VisionFest 2010 with Matt Moran on vibes, Chris Lightcap, and Gerald Cleaver.

Matthew Shipp, Rob Brown - Then Now (RogueArt 2020).

Stone House - Likewise (Riti Records, 2003) with Joe Morris (bass) and Luther Gray.


Anonymous said...

And excellent "Oblongata" (RogueArt 2023) with Steve Swell, Chris Lightcap and Chad Taylor.