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Hard Bop Cafe by Larry Brown

The Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) has its own annual awards, the "Wammies," and this year the Wammie for both jazz ensemble and jazz recording went to veteran pianist and bandleader Larry Brown, for his quintet and his most recent CD Hard Bop Café.

Brown has been laboring in the jazz trenches in the Washington area for a good many years, but is currently stepping up his performing and teaching activities. So the timing is right for this, his third recording, to bring him some well-deserved attention. I have noted on several occasions that many artists seem to break through with their third record. True to form, Brown and his quintet have produced something of note here. The impetus for the group's music is captured in the CD's title; the quintet plays out of a hard bop bag, from the era of classic Blue Note recordings coming out of Ruby Van Gelder's Hackensack studio that featured a hard core of hard bop masters in loosely organized combinations, each one of them instantly recognizable down to the bass player and the drummer. Brown and his men pay tribute to this era primarily by re-inventing it; this is not mere imitation. True, trumpeter Funn has listened to Lee Morgan and Kenny Dorham, but he has also absorbed more recent influences. Outstanding tenor player Fraize, head of the jazz studies departmet at George Washington University, has listened to Hank Mobley, but also to Michael Brecker. Brown, himself, knows the work of Kenny Drew, Wynton Kelly and Duke Pearson but channels it through Bill Evans and Miles Davis.

The same esthetic informs the programming. Dorham, Mobley, and Pearson are represented through their compositions, "Lotus Blossom," "Funk In Deep Freeze," and "Big Bertha," along with standards such as "My Foolish Heart," "It's You or No One," and "Old Folks." But there are also more recent works such as Brown's own "Waltz For Katie Devine," and Tom Harrell's lovely "Sail Away," a particular favorite of this writer. "What Is This?" is a reworking of "What Is This Thing Called Love" by another Washington area musician, saxophonist Alan Sherwin.

As for the performances, there are no gimmicks or special devices. Funn does play flugelhorn in places but Fraize resists the temptation to double on soprano. This is straight-ahead jazz at its best, with a forthright approach to well chosen material, supported by first rate soloists and a rock-solid rhythm section. And it is a refreshing change from the hundreds of interchangeable post-Coltrane clones that appear on so many of the recordings I receive. Like many Washington area performers, these are musicians who would probably be much better known if they worked out of New York. Let's hope this recording gets some national attention because the Hard Bop Café is definitely worth a visit.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Larry Brown
  • CD Title: Hard Bop Cafe
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Lush Life Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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