Bagatellen review by Derek Taylor

Rob Brown Trio – Sounds (CF 077)
The challenge to say something new with one’s instrument dogs an improvising musician with daily consistency. Altoist Rob Brown attacks the problem directly on the elementally titled Sounds by varying his surrounding context. Gone is the conventional bass and drums backing of so many of his previous sessions, replaced by the chamberish combination of Daniel Levin’s cello and the percussion of Satoshi Takeishi. The album’s first half center’s on the three-part title suite, a loose assemblage of melodic pointers and variegated rhythms that finds Brown fishing familiar waters. The first part includes oblique slivers from Gershwin’s “Summertime” while the second interpolates thematic material from Monk’s “Misterioso.” Other tracks explore other forms and Brown’s hummingbird progressions are just as incisive and expressive as ever, jumping from the taught freebop of “Stutter Step” to the Aylerish effusiveness of “Tibetan Folk Song” and the piquant ballad strains of “Moment of Pause”, his strikingly personalized vernacular exuding a tart acidity.

As Brown’s eager foils, Levin and Takeishi take a bit of getting used to. The percussionist’s scuttling Kabuki-colored patterns open up new rhythms and textures, but they also cede something in the way of propulsive potency. As such, there are moments where it’s hard not to pine for a harder touch, the pilot light on Brown’s fire-spitting side sometimes failing to ignite. Levin’s lighter, lither pizzicato style offers a similar give and take, freeing up the leader for some beautifully intricate flights of melodic and rhythmic fancy, but generally lacking the presence and weight of thicker strings. Also a bit odd is the complete absence of Brown’s flute, an implement that would seem ideal for the more nuanced environments created by the trio. Whether the exchange is worth it is obviously a subjective call, but I found that with some acclimatizing time spent my ears opened to the benefits of the differences. Brown notes in the self-penned liners that he’s been longing to realize this instrumentation for years and the benefits of that long gestation come through loud and clear in the music. Is it new? Not exactly, but it is indication of his renewed dedication placing himself in situations outside the norm and shooting for fresh forms of expression.

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