Marion Brown/Dave Burrell

Live at the Black Musicians’ Conference 1981
NoBusiness NBCD 109

Alessandro Nobile Dave Burrell Antonio Moncada

Reaction and Reflection

Rudi Records RRJ1039

Thirty-six years separate these discs, but the artistry exhibited by pianist Dave Burrell is undiminished. Starting in the 1960s he has worked with a list of improvises than stretches from Noah Howard to David Murray to William Parker. Oddly, although Marion Brown (1931-2010) was along with Burrell a first generation Free Jazzer, Live at the Black Musicians’ Conference is the more conventional of the two discs. Then 41, Burrell, who rarely worked with the alto saxophonist, was a last minute replacement for another pianist at this gig. Therefore the seven tracks include two composed by Brown, three by Burrell and two by Billy Strayhorn. Flash forward to 2017, when pianist, then 77 recorded seven group improvisations with two of Sicily’s most accomplished players, bassist Alessandro Nobile and drummer Antonio Moncada, both of whom have been extensively featured in ensembles of various sizes.

Live begins with a nearly 18-minute version of Brown’s “Gossip/Fortunado” with the reedist showing off his buzzing, breathy exposition and the pianist using Stride inflections to underscore the subsequent passionate theme. By the finale metronomic key pacing and snuffling tongue stretches confirm that this is more than a romantic jape. Both “My Little Brown Book” and “Lush Life” are played only slightly off kilter, with that later including alternating stretched and Stride notions from Burrell as Brown double times and pumps out bugle-like honks. Meanwhile “My Little Brown Book” is most notable for how the dual harmony manages to move in-and-out of “Parker’s Mood” without upsetting Strayhorn’s compositional mood.

Burrell’s compositions are treated in an even more compelling manner. Starting off as if it wants to be a variant on “Tea for Two”, “Crucifacado” then exposes Brown’s slurry, speech-like textures. He masticates various timbres, sucking the sweetness or tartness from them. The sliding melody also allows the two to speed up and slow down the tempo until it dissolves. Subtly shading the head of “Punaluu Peter”, Burrell’s sparkling, high-pitched tinkles cede the narrative to Brown’s split tones and vibrating cries until seizing it again half-way through and at twice the speed. Emotional reed snarls and sniffs in tandem with swing pianism keep the theme fluid until the end,

More dissonant with keyboard key clips, clip-clop drumming and power thumps from the bassist, the other CD also creates an animated groove as early as track one, “Reaction One”. Deceptive though lively chord substitutions and foot-tapping drum-brush swishes are replaced by delicate snowflake-like keyboard plinks that decorate the theme even as it slows down. From that point on the three function as if a long-established trio, with Nobile and Moncada given ample space in which to demonstrate their dexterity. For instance the CD concludes with “For Carlo” as upfront bass echoes lead to steadfast chromatic movement, while the hard shattering drumming and cymbal accents on “Reaction Three” pinpoints swinging counterpoint doubled by unhurried bass string plucks.

Slow burning “Reaction Two” plays up Burrell's internalization of Herbic Nichols and Thelonious Monk-like tropes, which bubble up and judder into repeated intervallic leaps aided by metallic drum smacks from Moncada and a moving ground bass line from Nobile. Even more notable “Reflection Two” sneaks along with trebly picks from the pianist, a ratcheting snare drum pulse and capricious stops and starts from the walking bass line. Burrell dances along the keys at the same time until the tune’s joyous release which reveals unexpected theme variations.

Better indications that in music at least age is just is number are these CDs. In fact it’s possible that like a fine wine’s vintage, Burrell’s playing has improved and intensified as he gets older.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Gossip/Fortunado 2. La Placita 3. My Little Brown Book 4. Punaluu Peter 5. Pua Mae ‘Ole 6. Crucifacado 7. Lush Life

Personnel: Live: Marion Brown (alto saxophone) and Dave Burrell (piano)

Track Listing: Reaction: 1. Reaction One 2. Reflection One 3. Reaction Two 4. Reflection Two 5. Reaction Three 6. Reflection Three 7. For Carlo

Personnel: Reaction: Dave Burrell (piano); Alessandro Nobile (bass) and Antonio Moncada (drums)