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Montrose Towing by Alex Brown

Alex Brown is an up-and-coming young musician from the Maryland area currently attending the New England Conservatory. A pianist, composer and violinist, Alex has already crowded a lot into his brief career, having appeared at major festivals and venues both in the US and overseas, and having worked with, among others, Paquito D'Rivera, the late Keter Betts, Jane Bunnett, Larry Coryell, Jon Faddis, Slide Hampton, Terell Stafford, Gary Thomas and Dave Valentin. "I consider Alex the future of music;" was the flutist's comment, "he's amazing, particularly for such a young musician, he has real soul."

Young or not, for this, his second recording, Alex demonstrates a commendable maturity. I have written several times about an unfortunate tendency of some artists to jump into a recording studio before they are ready, and for many to really come into their own only by around their third recording. In Alex's case, he seems to be ahead of the curve. There is a confidence about the writing and performing that belies the fact that not only Alex but most of these musicians are still in the first blush of youth; several of them are students, at institutions such as Juilliard and Eastman. Alex achieves a nice balance here-between originals and standards, between writing and blowing, between contemporary and more traditional jazz genres, and between youth and experience; he wisely brought in veteran bassist Pepe Gonzalez to provide some adult supervision!

Alex is actually a piano performance major at New England, but here he has chosen to put a lot of emphasis on his arranging skills, which exhibit, either consciously or unconsciously, an awareness of Tadd Dameron, Gerry Mulligan and others of that era as well as more contemporary sounds. Writing for five horns is not easy but Alex manages it well, avoiding the top-heavy sound some arranging students produce in their early attempts. Equally commendable in my view, Alex supplements his piano work with some tasty violin solos on "October Snow" and "Alone Together." He readily admits that this is his secondary instrument, but he acquits himself well with it, adding a welcome additional color to the mix. A trio version of "I Hear a Rhapsody" establishes that his piano work is still his central focus, however, and will likely be getting a passing grade this semester.

For an additional change of pace, Alex has included his arrangement of the traditional Jewish song, "Kol Han'shama" for which he received an "Outstanding Award" from Downbeat Magazine. Interestingly, while he first performed it for a service at his temple, Alex has given it an Afro-Cuban treatment; working with the likes of Paquito and Jane Bunnett has definitely rubbed off on him! Some fine clarinet work from the Anderson brothers--they are twins actually--confirms that this instrument is also making a comeback. As for "October Snow," an evocative tune in f sharp minor, this original shows that Alex has a melodic gift that I hope he will continue to cultivate.

For the most part, solos are kept short and to the point, but there is time for everyone to shine. We will be hearing more from all of these players in the coming years. Now we have to wait and see if Alex Brown will really nail it on his third album; we can look forward that with keen anticipation.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Alex Brown
  • CD Title: Montrose Towing
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Alex Brown
  • Rating: Four Stars
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