Alison Brown

(Vanguard CD 79486-2)

Vanguard Records
1299 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401

A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Henry Koretzky

QUARTET is Alison Brown's fourth recording as a group leader. Unlike her previous releases, which were laden with guest artists from the worlds of jazz and newgrass, the talented banjoist is featured here accompanied solely by her touring group: John R. Burr on piano, bassist Garry West, and Rick Reed on drums. Based on the recorded evidence featured here on this CD, this is an ensemble that you won't want to miss in concert when they come to your area.

Those who know Alison Brown from her stint with Alison Krauss and Union Station will be impressed by the maturity of her musical vision. From the opening notes of "G Bop," a pure bebop- flavored burner, we hear that Brown owes as much inspirational fealty to jazz banjo wizard Pat Cloud as she does to the better-known Flecktone, Bela Fleck. In addition, QUARTET manages to display several facets of Alison Brown's classical, world music, and jazz influences to the extent that there's really nothing here to remind you of her bluegrass roots. "Without Anastasia" is a gorgeous classically-flavored duet between Brown and Burr, while "The Red Balloon" is a soaring jazz waltz. The quartet also reprises the opening tune from Brown's first solo recording, SIMPLE PLEASURES (1990), with their sequel rendition of "Mambo Banjo (Revisited)." In comparing the two versions back to back, one is struck by how effectively Brown has absorbed the nuances of her varied musical influences over the intervening six years.

QUARTET isn't just the story of Alison Brown. It is a testiment to how well she meshes with her band, and vice versa. West and Reed create a supportive context for each of Brown's stylistically diverse compositions. She gives Burr lots of room to stretch on "Song of Monterey," and the mutually empathetic banjo/piano interplay throughout this CD could almost make one think the two instruments were made to play together. The synergy between Brown and Burr is reminiscent at times of that between Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, and both musical teams have created a unique fusion of styles that is definitely worth checking out. If you can't catch them live, QUARTET is a prime opportunity to hear some truly unique musicians playing at the top of their form.

[edited by Lee Rademacher (POMONOMO@aol.com)]

Copyright by Three Rivers Folklife Society, 1996
. This review may be reprinted with prior permission.

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