Marion Brown's "Quartet" album, his debut recording as a leader for ESP-Disk, is finally getting its sonic due. Now, if only it would get its critical due.
One of the more unrecognized musicians in the New Thing movement, Brown is probably best remembered for blowing alto on Coltrane's "Ascension". But his output in the '60s for ESP and Impulse! are of consistent high quality and deserving of wider recognition.
"Quartet" (although this issue titles it "Marion Brown") opens with a piece that is rather uncharacteristic of the New Thing movement, the breezy, laid back, and calypso-ish "Capricorn Moon". Performed by a quintet of Brown on alto, Alan Shorter (brother of Wayne and an unrecognized giant in his own right) on trumpet, Ronnie Boykins (on Sun Ra's band) and Reggie Johnson on basses, and Rashied Ali on drums, the piece is wistful and fluid-- extended solos by Brown, Shorter and Ali are all nothing short of astounding and lyrical-- particularly Ali at the drum kit.
The remainder of the album is of a more tense mood, but the pieces are probably more indebted to Ornette Coleman than anything else, with a nice sense of lyricism and space, whether its the tense quartet piece of "27 Cooper Square" (performed by Brown, Shorter, Johnson and Ali) or the stuttered them of "Exhibition" (performed by Brown, Bennie Maupin on tenor, a bassist I can't readily identify and Ali). This reissue is augmented by "Mephistopheles'. composed by Alan Shorter and performed by Brown, Shorter, Boykins and Ali as a quartet. This performance actually quite exceeds the rest of the album-- the theme utilizes tension in the theme, stating the theme in harmony and then breaking for sustains before turning over to schizophrenic solos by Brown and Shorter, both of whom shine brightly.
Certainly critical is getting this reissue of the album-- featuring the great sound prevelent in all the ESP-Disk reissues, the added track (and at nearly 19 minutes, its a lot of music), and a new essay about Brown and the album by Clifford Allen, its really quite a nice package. Highly recommended.