Donald Brown is pianist and composer, a skill perhaps even more vivid than his considerable keyboard chops, just in case you haven’t heard of him. And that’s no sin, considering the limitations of his performance schedule juggled with his duties as jazz educator in Memphis. Brown boasts a Jazz Messengers pedigree—he joined Blakey in the ’80s on the recommendation of homeboy and #1 booster James Williams—and had another notable experience as part of Williams’ four-piano homage to Phineas Newborn. Otherwise Brown he’s not widely known.
Brown can certainly play, and his writing always bears the gift of rich harmonies and strong melodies, both qualities in bold relief on such Wurd gems as “Easley Said and Done.” You’ll find these qualities in abundance on Wurd, as he navigates the crew of trumpeter Bill Mobley, saxmen Manny Boyd and Sam Newsome, bassist Essiet Essiet, drummer Billy Drummond and percussionist Daniel Sadownick through the warm waters of nine originals and the title track, on loan from his brother Ramone. The music succeeds because it is rendered with a cohesive and bright sense of service to the music of this considerable composer.
The focus on Piano Short Stories is on D.B. the piano-recitalist, though his writing shines through as well as it splits time with standards and near-standards (e.g., Joe Henderson’s classic “Black Narcissus”). Here the chops come through unfettered, and those chops are brawny, bearing a sure touch and amply displaying his sharp harmonic sense. He invests an infectious hump in “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, ” reinvigorating the old warhorse to open the disc. Brown illustrates a lovely sense of whimsy, particularly in his treatment of the bridge on “I’m Through With Love.” Monk’s “I Mean You” is taken as a modified boogie, and Brown luxuriates in the gospel elegance of his own “Clermont by Night, ” souls rejoicing.Originally Published