I was surprised to see that Don Braden did not receive a single vote in the latest Down Beat Critics’ Poll. Perhaps this is just another example of the amazing depth of talent that exists in jazz today, particularly on tenor saxophone; one hopes it doesn't mean that Braden’s talents are being unfairly neglected. His latest release is, I think, his finest recorded work to date, and exhibits an admirable degree of growth both in his abilities as a soloist and in the variety of contexts in which he chooses to display those abilities.
Braden employs three separate groups in "The Fire Within": his working quartet, an excellent English rhythm section headed by pianist Julian Joseph, and what is billed as The All-Star Trio Minus One, comprising Christian McBride and Jeff Watts. (This last group was originally intended to include the late Kenny Kirkland, and Braden dedicates the disk to his memory.) Braden also varies his repertoire nicely, mixing originals with standards and such familiar but not overdone jazz pieces as "Solar," "Thermo" and "Fried Bananas." The focus throughout, however, is on Braden the soloist, and he balances his obvious technical prowess with an impressive sense of form and an energetic rhythmic drive. The disc's best cut is probably a straight-ahead version of "All or Nothing at All," recorded with the English rhythm section. The only disappointment is that the disc's associate producer, Kenny Garrett, didn't bring his horn to the session.