Rob Brown Quartet

April 3, 2024

Rogue Art ROG-0131

For the People of the Open Heart
Fundacja Sluchaj FSR 08/2023

Four decades along in his recording and playing career, New York-based trombonist Steve Swell has become a valued member of the international creative music community. Willing to interact in original situations with new or familiar partners here he is as part of a European trio and an American quartet.Capable of equivalent high musical standards, all the players share a common language. For the People of the Open Heart has the trombonist improvising alongside Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar and German drummer Klaus Kugel, both of whom have extensive experience alongside Charles Gayle and Vladimir Tarasov to name two. Oblongata has Swell improvising with saxophonist/flutist Rob Brown, bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Chad Taylor, all of whom are part of the New York free music gestalt, interpreting nine of Brown’s compositions.

Beginning with a whinnying tailgate shriek from the trombonist on “Let It Grow”, the trio begins its CD on a literal high note and maintains this intensity throughout. With the bassist’s chunky thumps and pumps pulsating below, when he isn’t subtly rappelling up and down the string set, Swell’s pivots to inner tube growls, while his muted yelps and cries are accented by the drummer’s hard cymbal vibrations and rotating ratcheting noises.

Kugel’s ability to go full Gene Krupa at times, beating out harder and faster rhythms, comes in handy not only when the trombonist turns to blasting overblowing, but also during the introductory section of “Other Worlds”. Swell’s rare detour into thin squeaks from a flute are met with drum ruffs and rolls that harmonize with string extensions until the trombonist returns to his main instrument with brassy slurs.

Triple fluttering honks, swift AK-47-like blasts and plunger explorations are commonly used by the trombonist. Not every track vibrates with frenetic brass ejaculations however. Others, most notably “Tone Detective” and “Child’s Play” are built around deep sourced gurgles and burbles or near silent  tongue stops mixed with single note expressions from the trombone. Kugel’s response to the former is in the form of rim shots and triangle pings, with press rolls and cymbal splashes prominent on the latter. As each theme is advanced and commented upon a triangular strategy is emphasized. The bassist’s sophisticated string clabbering and solid stops may not be as loud, but are obvious for joint cooperation

Although an extra horn is added the playing situation is similar on the American-recorded  disc. Lightcap adds well-modulated string slaps and walking bass pacing at junctures, while focused swing usually arises from Taylor’s chiming cymbals and hi-hat. With ripples and flutters Brown and Swell operate in lockstep expressing the themes with bites and puffs and often melding timbres for original endings which flow logically from theme variations.

One instance of this round-robin timbral expression occurs on the title track. Based around a quasi-Native Indian motif, the broken-octave exposition quickly moves upwards to allegro as Brown’s higher-than-usual alto saxophone textures advance to near-screech mode alternating with as emotional, but more mid-range trombone projections. A drum break focused on cowbell whacks helps break up the narrative until the head is recapped as the finale. Lightcap’s infrequently used arco motions also show up on a track like “Interjection”. They provide a continuum below the alternating strained scoops and doits from Brown and Swell’s short brass blasts.

Swell’s gruff vibrations or airy puffs stacked up against Brown’s honks, smears or sometime altissimo bites decorate most of the narratives, which otherwise are mobilized with balanced brass portamento and expressive reed grace notes. The saxophonist’s one introduction of lighter flute tones on “Waving Around the Corner” are saved from excess gentleness by plunger brass accompaniment.

Lockstep horn elaborations and focused the variations from all make Oblongata another instance of well-paced contemporary Jazz. Moving from two horns to one the same attributes can be applied to For the People of the Open Heart.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: People: 1. Let It Grow 2. Clarion Encounter 3. Tone Detective 4. Child’s Play 5. Found Poetry 6. Other Worlds 7. For The People Of The Open Heart 8. The Ongoing 9. Fissures Of De-Light

Personnel: People: Steve Swell (trombone and flute); Mark Tokar (bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums)
Track Listing: Oblongata: 1. 501 Memo 2. Who Goes There 3. Roxanne 4. Steepening Curve 5. Waving Around the Corner 6. Oblongata 7. Interjection 8. Stills 9. Piling On

Personnel: Oblongata: Steve Swell (trombone); Rob Brown (alto saxophone and flute); Chris Lightcap (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums)