Despite being a respected presence in the contemporary jazz scene for many years now, alto saxophonist, Rob Brown, remains somewhat overlooked and under appreciated, in my humble opinion. During his 20+ year career, he has produced very few recordings as a leader, a fact which I find unfortunate, as I???ve always enjoyed his unique tone and distinctive style. His 1989 release on Silkheart, ???Breath Rhyme??? is still a personal favorite. Brown originally formed this current quartet (which includes the legendary, William Parker, on bass, Gerald Clever, on drums, and the well-known, but often lightweight, Craig Taborn, on piano and electronics) for a performance at the 2006 edition of NYC???s great Vision Festival.
Supported by this ensemble, Brown explores new sonic territory on ???Crown Trunk Root Funk???, incorporating elements of funk and experimental electronics into his music. Brown slowly immerses listeners into his expanded vocabulary, opening the disc with the solid ???Rocking Horse???, a funky, slightly fusion-inflected free bopper that doesn???t stray too far from his earlier work. By the set???s third track, however, Brown is deep into uncharted waters. In ???Sonic Ecosystem??? Taborn and Cleaver lay down a minimal (but slowly building) foundation of experimental electronics and sporadic percussive accents over which, eventually, Brown, with an almost mournful alto, and Parker, with bowed bass, play a plaintive theme in unison. In sharp contrast, the next track ???Ghost Dog??? is the album???s most accessible piece, a slick, nearly regrettable, pop-leaning, funky strutter. The group returns to familiar ground with ???Exuberance???, an excellent blast of classic Brown free bop stylings. The CD closes with the beautiful ???World’s Spinning???, in which Cleaver, Parker and Taborn create a dark, impressionistic backdrop for Brown???s soulful, lyrical lines. While his experiments on ???Crown Trunk Root Funk??? are not uniformly successful, it still contains plenty of great contemporary jazz and Brown is to be commended for attempting to explore new sonic horizons. DL