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Oscar Brown, Jr.: Live Every Minute

As firmly as I believe Mark Murphy’s name should be as familiar as Sinatra’s, I think the three magic words that comprise Oscar Brown Jr. should be as recognizable as Ray Charles. Four decades ago, when Brown’s Sin & Soul caused the sort of industry buzz now reserved for televised lip-locks between overhyped pop stars, no less an authority than Max Roach declared him “beyond all categories: one of the most gifted and imaginative artists we have.” Nothing has changed. At 77, Brown remains as uncompromisingly outspoken and refreshingly sanguine as ever. In his original liner notes for Sin & Soul Brown explains, “My lyrics are verses about feelings I’ve felt and scenes I’ve dug. My aim is to deliver messages that swing and entertainment that is meaningful.” Evidence of his lifelong dedication to that deceptively pragmatic goal can be found throughout the aptly titled Live Every Minute (Minor), a sort of “greatest hits” collection featuring Stanley Turrentine and recorded six years ago in Hamburg. Alternating between combo and big-band settings, Brown (whose remarkable versatility has always suggested a melding of Murphy’s monkish musical zeal and Jon Hendricks’ joyous perspicacity) is in superb voice as he takes us on a rousing roller-coaster ride that descends from the devilish fun of “Mr. Kicks” and “The Snake” to the chilled optimism of “It’s October” and somber disillusion of “World Full of Gray,” then rises to the curvaceous heights of that matched pair of salutes to female wiles, “Hazel’s Hips” and “Billie’s Bounce.” To borrow a line from Brown’s entrancing “A Column of Birds,” it’s a grand 48-minute tour guaranteed to transport you from the “grind of [the] grim here and now.”

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