2. Dollar Brand Trio: “The Stride” (Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio; Reprise, 1964)
Although it took the cajoling of Brand’s wife (singer Bea Benjamin) to get Duke Ellington out to hear him play in Switzerland, it’s immediately apparent what the jazz great heard in the young upstart exile. “The Stride,” the closing track from Brand’s debut LP (for which Ellington organized the session at his Reprise label), contains all the hallmarks of the pianist’s early sound. His debts to Ellington, Monk, and the AME church are readily apparent, as are his instantly memorable but mysterious melodies and his percussive force. It doesn’t take long for Brand’s originality to emerge, either: About 90 seconds in comes a bout of free-time clattering where the Monk and gospel influences fragment into something between counterpoint and carefully choreographed synergy courtesy of the same rhythm section as the Epistles’: Brand, Gertze, and Ntshoko. Then on the reprise come those polyrhythms again, sly but also pointed like a dagger to the ribs.