Float like a butterfly, abrade like sandpaper. Thus, the curious and fascinating dichotomy between band and bandleader on this, Marion Brown's second album for ESP-Disk as a leader. Originally released 42 years ago in '68, the crucial beauty resides with drummer Rashied Ali, who played with John Coltrane from '65 until Coltrane's death in '67. One of the first drummers to disregard timekeeping and turn the drum kit into a palette equal with a horn or a keyboard, Ali took a mighty intuitive leap. He jumped into the air and took wing.

Working breath-by-breath above Ali, pianist Stanley Cowell and bassist Norris "Sirone" Jones swap in and out as each other's shadows with the enthusiasm of schoolchildren. Sirone gets busy, Cowell rushes on his heels. Cowell cools off, Sirone winds down to elegant and spare plunking. They could stand better recording levels (ESP-Disk sessions often started and finished on the cheap) but give the CD repeated spins, as you should, and you'll plunk yourself down in the picture.

Above them all, laying out for long minutes but snapping you to attention each comeback, Brown on alto sax stretches for stellar high squeaks, rolls out bop-friendly fast lines in the title cut, wavers, trails off, and occasionally bites down hard. He lets the others have fun, but when he comes in everyone snaps to attention. He calls the plays — here's a dance, here's a knees-up strut, here's a languid passage that almost but not quite turns into "Auld Lang Syne." The record never stoops to Muzak. But Brown keeps it from getting written off as Muzak.

Sirone and Ali died last year. Cowell teaches at Rutgers. Brown, no longer able to make music, stays in an assisted-living facility in Florida. He'll probably leave us there. Treasure the man while you can. Treasure the music down all the days.

  • Album: Why Not? (1968, reissued 2010)
  • Artist: Marion Brown
  • Label: ESP-Disk
  • Songs: (1) La Sorella (2) Fortunado (3) Why Not? (4) Homecoming

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Comments

Russ Lewis July 21, 2010 @ 1:36 p.m.

Sounds very interesting. I wouldn't mind hearing it -- once, maybe. I know how ESP jazz can be.

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Andrew Hamlin Oct. 20, 2010 @ 7:08 p.m.

And Mr. Brown has just passed...listen to the records and cherish what he left...

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