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Cameron Brown and the Hear and Now: Here and How!

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Talk about overdue: For 40 years, Cameron Brown has worked with a ridiculously long list of heavyweights, but he has only now released an album under his own name. In an age of recorded-music saturation, that’s astounding. Very much to his credit, the bassist has created an ensemble, the Hear and Now, whose sound doesn’t smack of a resume, even when they are performing tunes by Don Cherry and Don Pullen, who engaged Brown at crucial points of his artistic development. Instead, the bassist has assembled a cross-generational ensemble-vocalist Sheila Jordan, trumpeter Dave Ballou and drummer Leon Parker; tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman guests on three of the album’s six tracks-whose ear for song precludes gratuitous fireworks. Though Brown has chops few bassists can match, his real forte is providing the hub for the music’s movement. On Here and How!, Brown’s cohorts revolve around his deep groove and agile flourishes, maintaining a low blue flame throughout a well-constructed program.

To say bebop is at the heart of the music is an understatement, though it is somewhat misleading if one primarily identifies with bebop’s breakneck tempi and demanding virtuosity. Brown’s bead on bebop on these Belgian concert performances is largely synonymous with Sheila Jordan’s: the wisdom that comes with age trumps the audacity of youth, and subsequently the groove sways far more often than it scorches, and each solo breathes. In one of her infectiously ebullient lyrics, Jordan assures her cohorts that they will be singing too by tour’s end; throughout the album, it’s obvious that the message took, particularly with Ballou, whose performances complement his profile as one of the more erudite trumpeters to emerge in the wake of Dave Douglas. To this end, Parker’s ability to create rhythmic excitement without ordinance is crucial, especially for Redman’s sure-footed, smoldering solos.

For listeners who value a vibe more than chops, Hear and How! will prompt a satisfied “Wow.”