Reviews – ROB BROWN Ensemble ..Crown Trunk Root Funk...(AUM044)

VILLAGE VOICE / Jazz Consumer Guide - Pick Hit!

“Good-on-paper groups are ten a penny. This one deliver royally, not least because Brown’s writing is so inventive and uncliched, proposing new relationships between old demarcations like ‘lead,’ ‘harmony,’ ‘rhythm section.’ – Brian Morton

WNUR JAZZ "Picks of the Week"
"In what is certain to be a career landmark recording for altoist Rob Brown, “Crown Trunk Root Funk,” the New Yorker leads a tight, driven ensemble, bold in both its sound and flexibility. With years of experience playing as a sideman with bassist William Parker and the giants of the New York scene, Brown has now has established himself as a crucial vanguard voice, and this truth can be heard in Brown’s music here. Supported by a rock solid rhythmic duo of Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, Brown grooves on pieces like “Rocking Horse” and wails away on free-jazz blowouts like “Exuberance,” two of the highlights of a set of seven original Rob Brown pieces. And the mystical explorations of “Sonic Ecosystem,” demonstrate the yearning creativity of group, specifically of pianist and electronic artist Craig Taborn.” - Mike Szajewski

"Saxophonist Rob Brown is not only a pleasure to hear in the various bands he's a member of, but all the albums he released under his own name are all of interest. The reason: he has a great sense of music, combining strong and creative melodic approaches with rhythmic inventiveness, without losing touch with the jazz tradition, and above all: the emotional power of his alto is probably the greatest fun. His ensemble for this album consists of Craig Taborn on piano and electronics, William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The first track "Rocking Horse" sucks the listener headfirst into Brown's universe, with a strong bass vamp, great drumming by Cleaver, wonderful and sometimes eerie accents by Taborn, and with Brown soaring above, through and under the music. It's the first time Brown records with a pianist in one of his own bands (not taking his duets with Shipp into account), and the collaboration works well, especially because Brown's themes are often strange, with high intervallic jumps, as on "Clearly Speaking", but in unison with the keyboards the result is excellent. On "Sonic Ecosystem", the slow theme is played by sax and arco bass together from beginning to end, above Taborn's changing electronic tapestry, subtly supported by Cleaver. More than on his other album's, Brown compositional skills come to the fore, without relinquishing the necessary freedom to make his music breathe and live. Especially the last track, "Worlds Spinning" is worth mentioning, because of the totally free middle part, in which Parker's arco creates a great musical environment for Brown's free and sensitive blowing."

"Alto saxophonist Robert Brown is an integral member of the current New York avant-jazz scene. With a bright, at times biting, tone that matches his courageously perspicacious improvisatory style, Brown’s saxophone is an instantly recognizable and distinctly memorable voice on a host of recordings from the 90s and 00s. Crown Trunk Root Funk, his most recent outing as a leader, puts him in a “dream quartet” with eminent collaborators pianist Craig Taborn, bassist William Parker, and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

Pairing Taborn with Brown is a particularly efficacious choice. Taborn has the ability to employ neo-traditional jazz voicings and post-tonal verticals with equal skill — sometimes in the same piece! A player who knows funk as well as jazz styles, his supple rhythmic sensibility is the perfect match for the malleable meters evoked by Parker and Cleaver. He also lends judiciously implemented live electronics to the edges of the proceedings.

All of the pieces on the CD are credited to Brown, yet there is abundant variety here. “Rocking Horse” is a buoyant hard-blowing excursion, pitting avant-funk rhythms against Brown’s angular caterwauling and Taborn’s neo-expressionist harmonies. Parker and Cleaver create a sinuously beguiling rhythmic duet underneath Brown’s cascading arpeggios on “Clearly Speaking.” On “Sonic Ecosystem,” the group explores a pointillist, pianissimo environment. Taborn’s delicate shadings and Cleaver’s judicious brushwork halo a haunting melodic statement, in octaves, by Brown’s alto and Parker’s bowed bass. Brown and Cleaver let it rip on the aptly named “Exuberance,” while “Worlds Spinning” closes the recording with a long-form minor-key composition. Meditative, imaginatively textured, and achingly wistful, it is a striking conclusion to a laudable recording. " – Christian Carey

"After its successful premier at the 2006 Vision Festival, alto saxophonist Rob Brown took his newest ensemble into the studio to record Crown Trunk Root Funk, his first recording as a leader for AUM Fidelity. A formidable blend of funky abstraction, angular post-bop and dark impressionism, it offers an expansive view of Brown's adventurous aesthetic.

A two decade plus veteran of New York City's Downtown scene, Brown employs three of today's most in-demand sidemen in this quartet. Bandleader, composer and bassist William Parker shares a performing history with Brown dating back twenty years. Drummer Gerald Cleaver has been a regular collaborator of Brown's recently, while pianist Craig Taborn is relatively new to Brown's oeuvre, playing with him for the first time in 2006.

Brown's acerbic alto takes center stage over the course of these roiling, intensely rhythmic tunes, with Taborn's jagged cadences offering reliable support. Eschewing token traditionalism, Taborn avoids conventional comping, liberally unspooling brittle linear phrases under Brown's circuitous salvos, as on the thorny “Lifeboat.” Working in tandem, Brown and Taborn meander through the shadowy “Ghost Dog,” weaving through labyrinthine passages driven by a percolating groove and sinewy bass ostinato.

Longstanding partners, Taborn and Cleaver unveil their intuitive rapport on “Sonic Ecosystem,” the album's sole electronic piece. Glitchy hums emanate from lo-fi electronics as Taborn accents undulating sine waves with pointillist piano phrases, while Cleaver quietly responds with scintillating tones. Sporadically interrupted by a plangent unison theme from Brown's plaintive alto and Parker's bowed bass, their conversation continues unabated.

Clocking countless studio hours together, Taborn, Parker and Cleaver are frequent rhythm section companions. Whether locking into the slow burn vamp of “Rocking Horse” or navigating shifting meters on the knotty post-bop of “Clearly Speaking,” they demonstrate their affable interplay with fluid invention.

Eclipsing structural traditions, Brown spars with Cleaver on the first half of “Exuberance,” discharging pithy, fragmentary spirals as Cleaver throttles his kit with unfettered abandon before the entire group reconvenes.

Despite the album's overall focus on rhythm, Brown reveals a soulful, impressionistic side on “World's Spinning,” closing the record with stark, yearning lyricism.

With over a dozen albums to his credit, Crown Trunk Root Funk is one of Brown's most engaging." –Troy Collins

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