Monday, January 07, 2008

Brown at the Green Mill

Ari Brown Live at the Green Mill
Delmark CD & DVD

Delmark deserves recognition from Chicago’s Chamber of Commerce. In addition to being the Windy City’s most celebrated independent label, in recent months they have brought forth a series of DVDs recorded by some of Chicago’s finest musicians in the city’s leading venues. Releases like Nicole Mitchell at the Velvet Lounge and Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble at the Ascension Loft create enticing portraits of Chicago’s musical scene. For a live release from Chicago reedman Ari Brown, Delmark went to the Green Mill, considered the oldest surviving jazz club and once boasting Capone enforcer “Machinegun” Jack McGurn as a co-owner. The resulting Live at the Green Mill effectively showcases Brown and his Chicago-based ensemble, and further buttresses the burgeoning reputation of the local jazz scene.

Like Mitchell, Brown is comfortable in avant-garde settings, but for his live sets at the Mill, stays within a straight ahead, bop-based bag. Brown and company do take ample opportunity to stretch out though, with the seven tunes of the DVD averaging out to over ten minutes. They start with “Richard’s Tune,” an inviting workout, taken up-tempo, but not too briskly. It is an excellent bop showcase for Brown’s tenor and Pharez Whitted on trumpet. Pianist and brother Kirk Brown also displays a deft touch in his solo here, and throughout the sessions.

“One for Skip” follows, with Brown’s mournful introduction. Dedicated to a departed friend, it is elegantly elegiac. Brown has a rougher-hewn sound on tenor, and his ballad treatment here recalls the Hawk through its muscular sensitivity.

The DVD has the advantage over the simultaneously recorded CD with the inclusion of “Waltz of the Prophets.” Filmed over two nights, it appears from wardrobe clues tracks 1-3 came from one date, with the balance coming from the other night. Brown at one time played with McCoy Tyner, and one can hear an affinity in their music on the slightly exotic “Waltz.”

Brown switches to soprano (and changes shirts) for an explicitly titled homage, “Shorter’s Vibes.” Compulsively propelled along by Dr. Cuz’s percussion and Kirk Brown’s rhythmic piano, Brown’s solo is fittingly ecstatic.

Kirk Brown signals another change of pace on “Two Gun V,” augmenting his piano with some funky keyboard work. Not to be outdone, Ari Brown, starts on tenor, moves to soprano, and then proceeds to play both simultaneous, a la Rahsaan Kirk, over a solid groove from the rhythm section.

Brown and his band members are great musicians, who come strong in these consistently crowd pleasing Green Mill performances. They do not seem to tour New York often (at least as far as I have heard), so Live at the Green Mill makes a good case for visiting Chicago. Things definitely seem to be happening there.