Theoretically, I should not be able to write that the Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown is in fact a Swing Master. He is certainly too young and too healthy. He’s been on a skateboard. He might even lack the maladjustments so common to Great Artists. But these things have not limited his creative magic.
There’s more delightful evidence at hand, a new Delmark CD, DIRECT CALL, which I would gladly dub SWING MASTERPIECE OF 2016.
For those who’d rather trust their ears than this blog, here are samples from the CD. And here is the riotously rocking title track — Django’s APPEL DIRECT:
The three other masters here are Phil Gratteau, drums; Jeremy Kahn, piano; Joe Policastro, string bass. Like Andy, they know what and where it is.
The session was recorded in Chicago last September — beautiful sound thanks to my non-relative Scott Steinman: THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ / PRISONER OF LOVE / EL CAJON / FUNK IN DEEP FREEZE / APPEL DIRECT / RELAXING / ONE MORNING IN MAY / CATCH ME / ELA E CARIOCA / FREAK OF THE WEEK.
In a crime novel whose name I forget, someone said, less politely, “Everybody can talk but not everyone has things to say.” The art of swing improvisation is not something learned from the Real Book or from copying gestures to fool an audience. (Ending a performance of SHINY STOCKINGS with three Basie chords doesn’t make it Basie.)
Compelling, light-hearted, authentic swing and melodic improvisations are a matter of years of study — usually on the job. The members of this quartet, although not Elders chronologically, are wise players whose art comes from playing, listening, thinking, feeling.
Some like their jazz to be startling, even abrupt. It has to be “innovative” and “adventurous.” I wouldn’t deny them such pleasures, but music that shouts BOO! in my ear is not for me. I warm to jazz that delicately balances the familiar and the surprising, with comfort the result, as if I were a passenger with a driver I wholly trusted. This comfort is felt immediately in the opening choruses of APPEL DIRECT. “These players know how to sustain feeling and build on it; they won’t let me down or disappoint me.”
Although the CD is in no way a repertory project, I could settle into the joy of experiencing and anticipating right from the start: the same way I feel when (let us say) I heard Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones play an eight-bar introduction. Basie and Charlie Christian. Jimmie Rowles, Jim Hall, Leroy Vinnegar, Frank Butler. You can supply your own names. Mastery and ease.
I urge you to check out the CD, and, even better, share the music with others . . . or do that most radical thing, hear this quartet in a Chicago club or elsewhere. I believe that you will feel uplifted, rewarded — by the sweetness of PRISONER OF LOVE, the rare energy of CATCH ME and the other swinging tunes. It’s a beautifully integrated quartet, with each player generously giving of himself to the band. And now I will play APPEL DIRECT again.
May your happiness increase!