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Ari Brown: Live at the Green Mill

Ari Brown may be best known these days for his relentlessly exploratory work with his colleagues in Chicago’s AACM, but over the years he’s also played in plenty of blues, R&B and mainstream jazz contexts, and he obviously embraces it all. This gig, recorded in one of Chicago’s most famous clubs, features him in a relatively straightahead setting on tenor and soprano saxes as well as flute, propelled by the lithe swing of Avreeayl Ra’s drums and Yosef Ben Israel’s deep-pocket bass, along with Pharez Whitted on trumpet and Brown’s younger brother Kirk on piano. Conguero Dr. Cruz also lends his dancing polyrhythmic textures to the proceedings.

Perhaps wisely, Brown tempered his more aggressively free tendencies for the savvy but relatively conservative Green Mill crowd, but that doesn’t mean he insisted on working with a net. He’s adept at coaxing a swinging, melodically centered idea into free directions, creating solos that lay down a solid, linear foundation and then spinning outward in tightly wound concentric spirals before shooting off into Blakean flights of nightmare-tinged delight. But he always returns safely home. Whitted provides an eloquent foil here, tracing intricate aural patterns with a fiery tone that often, apropos of the AACM spirit, bespeaks a militant striving for liberation. Kirk’s keyboard melodicism, rich but never syrupy, makes clear that he understands, as Larry Kart has put it, the essential difference between the “beautiful” and the merely “pretty.”

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