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December 2008

Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra with special guests Steve Lacy & David Murray
Ten
Water Baby

Much of this music sounds like it could have been the soundtrack to a ’50s movie set in post-WWII Japan, one featuring big-band tunes played by a combination of traditional jazz instruments and indigenous Asian instruments. Unlike many recent fusions of Asian music and jazz that lean toward the East, drummer/arranger Anthony Brown’s emphasizes the West. The Asian instruments, while an essential element, are used in service of Brown’s determinedly jazz-based concept. A collection of tracks taken from earlier albums, the personnel varies somewhat from track to track.

In the main, it uses a cut-down big-band instrumentation, with various Asian flutes, string and percussion instruments playing integral roles. Brown’s finely detailed versions of tunes by Monk (“Monk’s Mood,” “Misterioso,” “Hackensack”), Ellington (“Come Sunday,” “Mount Harissa”), Mingus (“Self-Portrait in Three Colors”) and Gershwin (“Rhapsody in Blue”) are tastefully arranged, as are his pleasantly melodic original compositions. Hafez Modirzadeh’s microtonally inflected tenor spot on “Mount Harissa” stands out, solo-wise. Qi Chao Liu’s reed trumpet on “Rhymes for Children” is striking, as well.

While Brown’s arrangements aren’t mind-blowingly original, they are very engaging, and the performances are spirited from beginning to end. This music is charming, in the very best, least condescending sense of the word.

Originally published in December 2008
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