His Name is Alive

Sweet Earth Flower a Tribute to Marion Brow
HighTwo HT 014

What more indie-rock bands should do when they grow up, Sweet Earth Flower is a recasting of the compositions of alto saxophonist Marion Brown by rockers His Name is Alive plus members of Afro-funk band Nomo. A unique entry in the jazz master-dedication sweepstakes, since Brown, 72, is still alive – he endorsed the session – the nine-piece group mostly concentrates on the earthier, uncomplicated segments of Brown’s oeuvre. Considering Brown was always the most lyrical of first generation New Thingers – he recorded with Ambient Music pioneer Harold Budd as well as John Coltrane – with some reservations the CD is true to his vision.

On eight versions of Brown’s compositions, the Michigan-based band, which has recorded dozens of albums since 1993, uses massed percussion to give a foot-tapping undercurrent to Brown’s work. When it’s most successful the mixture adds jazz-inflected soloing reflecting Miles Davis’ spacious fusion efforts to a tough beat reminiscent of the better funk bands of the 1970s like War and the Crusaders.

The solos of saxophonists Elliot Bergman and Michael Herbst, trumpeter Justin Walter and Warn Defever on piano are respectful, if derivative and even electric piano noodling from Erik Hall or Bergman is more connective than disruptive. Drawbacks appear on some tunes however, when the saxophone and trumpet licks get overly soppy. More seriously the reed improvisations on “Bismillahi ‘Rrahmani ‘Rrahim” are ultimately drowned out by Defever’s distorted, histrionic guitar licks. Brown’s earlier FreeBop tunes are also ignored for those which situate him between Funk and New Age.

Still, the exposure here should help Brown’s catalogue sales and the man himself who is ailing.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 337