Hisnamealive_span3
April 2008

His Name Is Alive
Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown
High Two

Fifteen years after Marion Brown’s last recording, an obscure rock band from Detroit finally recognizes his majestic music. His Name Is Alive grasps that the free-jazz altoist is most importantly a tunesmith; the marvels crafted on Sweet Earth Flower–a mixture of live and studio tracks—are directly in the service of Brown’s melodies, not his style.

Not that HNIA’s versions can’t sound like Brown’s: “Geechee Recollections” (actually “Once Upon a Time,” from the 1973 Geechee Recollections LP) is remarkably faithful to the West African-sounding original. But the band’s interest is in what accentuates the tunes themselves. On “Sweet Earth Flying” and the once-cartwheeling “Juba Lee Brown,” that means establishing a dense drone (relying heavily on Erik Hall’s electric piano) like a fog from which the understated melodies, played on trumpet, saxophone and piano, emerge.

What HNIA does to nearly all the songs is soak them in psychedelia. The gauzy drones are just one example: For Brown’s best composition, the soulful “Capricorn Moon,” the band transposes to a minor key, Warn Defever plays the apocalyptic bassline on guitar, and echo abounds; the brilliant final product sounds as much like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle” as it does “Capricorn Moon.”

Brown has long deserved more credit for his contributions to the jazz pantheon, and Sweet Earth Flower has the potential to deliver to him adventurous new fans. But even if it doesn’t, its inspired and intuitive mastery of the saxophonist’s music more than makes it worthwhile.

Originally published in April 2008
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