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Cynthia Felton: Afro Blue: The Music of Oscar Brown Jr.

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Actually, it is Doctor Felton. In addition to a bachelor of music degree from Berklee and a master of arts in jazz performance from NYU, she holds a doctorate in Jazz Studies from USC. On her debut album, Felton puts all that training to effective use. Hers is a pure, rich, vibrant voice-shades of Dianne Reeves and Nnenna Freelon-that can, as required, be as bright and shiny as a new penny, as playful as a rambunctious kitten or as arresting as a thunderstorm rumbling on the horizon.

Most Brown tributes tend to draw from the deep well of songs for which he crafted both words and music. Several of those are, of course, showcased here, ranging from the devilishness of “Mr. Kicks,” the sultry swagger of “Hazel’s Hips” (reinterpreted by Felton as “Harry’s Hips”) and the joyousness of “Long as You’re Living” to the powerful civil rights statements enfolded in “Brown Baby,” “When Malindy Sings” and “Brother, Where Are You?” But Felton goes a welcome step further by also featuring four landmark jazz tracks-Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere” and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song”-for which Brown shaped lyrics.

Adding to the album’s formidable appeal is accompaniment, including several standout solos, from some of the best players in the business, including Ernie Watts, Jeff Clayton, Cyrus Chestnut, Wallace Roney, Donald Brown, Jeff “Tain” Watts and Terri Lyne Carrington. All in all, it adds up to a most auspicious introduction, suggesting that Felton could, in short order, attract as big and appreciative an audience as Reeves’ or Freelon’s.

Originally Published