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Uncertain Living by Britton Brothers Band

The seemingly endless parade of very worthwhile jazz recordings by artists I've never heard of continues with the Britton Brothers' debut CD, Uncertain Living. Ben and John Britton play the saxophone and trumpet, respectively, and have made a name for themselves in academic jazz circles while remaining relatively unknown to the jazz-listening public at large. “Uncertain Living” shows that the Brittons and their band are clearly ready for prime time – the playing here is marvelous and the writing is even better: slightly quirky and very original while maintaining firm roots in the jazz tradition. While clearly influenced by classic hard-bop ensembles led by Art Blakey and Horace Silver, the Brittons have also incorporated a number of contemporary influences into their music, such as the sorts of things that Steve Coleman, Dave Douglas, and their mentor Chris Potter have been doing in the context of acoustic jazz.

Though all of these guys appear to be in their mid-to-late 20s, and their chops have been honed largely in various academic settings, the playing here is meaty, soulful, and full of life. Ben - who also fronts an appealing-sounding Philly-based funk-jazz group called Unconventional Riot - has degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, in addition to private studies with Chris Potter (a special guest on this CD), Walt Weiskopf, Rich Perry and George Garzone. Not surprisingly, Ben Britton's sound and approach shares some of the desirable characteristics of his teachers'. But he's no clone, as his solos throughout this CD attest – Chris Potter weighs in on two tracks, and the differences between the two players are quite palpable. John, who has studied with Terrell Stafford, is currently attending Eastman. He's a highly proficient player with a lovely rich tone, and despite an abundance of technique, doesn't come across as an 'all-chops' sort. The rest of the band, like the leaders, have studied - or are studying – at either Eastman or Manhattan. All are quite impressive – pianist Siskind gets a lot of solo space, and shows a real depth of ideas on 'June Humidity,' where his soloing and comping nods to stride piano, Art Tatum, and Bill Evans in rapid succession.

The tunes – written by Ben Britton, John Britton, or Jeremy Siskind – are a diverse bunch. The title track, 'Extra Fuzz,' and the CD-closing 'Ducks In a Row' are bold, backbeat-driven, multi-sectioned compositions that emphasize dynamic and rhythmic contrasts. Austin Walker's attentive, spirited drumming is especially impressive on these pieces (and throughout the CD, for that matter – his solos on 'Extra Fuzz' and 'Mr. John McNeil' are poised and strongly musical). Chris Potter joins the band on two of these tracks, and engages Ben Britton in a very entertaining improvised dialogue at the beginning of 'Ducks In a Row.' 'Anticipation' is similarly upbeat, but with a lighter feel and a melody that will stick in your head for quite some time – this is the tune that really convinced me that these guys are for real. Not only is it spectacularly played – with wonderful, airy solos from Siskind, Potter, and author John Britton - the arrangement is really imaginative and well thought-out. Siskind's 'June Humidity' is a slow sweet ballad with an air of mystery to it and some truly amazing piano work, while 'Molo' is an elaborate sort of post-bop / hard bop tune that wouldn't sound out of place on a recording by any number of Marsalises. Bassist Taylor Waugh is spotlighted on 'Come Thou Font.' His strong, agile playing sets up a beautiful, blues-soaked rendition of a hymn written by the early 19th century theologian Asahel Nettleton. This contrasts nicely with 'Mr. John McNeil,' a particularly rambunctious bop-derived piece with a somewhat familiar melody, interesting changes which lead the band into a few really surprising places, and some truly outstanding trumpet soloing by John Britton.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Britton Brothers Band
  • CD Title: Uncertain Living
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Record Label: self-released
  • Rating: Four Stars
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