Gordon Lee with the Mel Brown Septet

Tuesday Night

oa2 22111

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MUSIC REVIEW BY Bill Donaldson, Cadence

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The fact that Mel Brown's septet has gone unrecorded, but for an album in the eighties, raises the question of how many other not only worthy, but individually remarkable, groups remain undiscovered. Their members may be satisfied with performing as the occasions arise at local venues before going back to make a living at their day jobs.

In Brown's case, the album's name refers to its weekly gig at Jimmy Mak's in Portland, Oregon for the past 14 years. Both Brown, a former Motown drummer, and Lee, previously a New York jazz pianist, were drawn to the social and academic potential of Portland and chose to stay. Good thing for Portland. That city benefits from outstanding jazz performances weekly, if Tuesday Night is any indication. Brown fashions his group after Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, which similarly included a drummer as its leader and which featured the same instrumentation (at the time when Blakey included a trombone). In fact, alto saxophonist John Nastos's sound, with its brightness and wails and fades, bears at times an energetic resemblance to that of Bobby Watson's. Yet, Lee's original compositions and arrangements provide a distinctive identity for Brown's septet, while numerous composers provided material for the Jazz Messengers. The septet is totally engaged in performing those arrangements with the flair and cohesion that Lee must have imagined when he wrote them. No wonder this group has become a fixture in the Portland jazz scene. As is his right as composer/performer, Lee does introduce with florid piano solos several of the tracks—namely "Full Moon" and "Urgent Message"—while "Sunset on the Beach" emerges from a music-box-like piano pattern disconnected from the back beat-driven main theme. We get the connection between the theme from Rachmaninoff's piano concerto and its popularized version of "Full Moon and Empty Arms" (not to mention "All by Myself"). In any case, the decision about starting an arrangement is an important one, and Lee's decisions seem to allow a soloist to lead off, with Brown on "Low Profile" and "Machangulo," bassist Andre St. James on "Istanbul," tenor saxophonist Renato Caranto on "Blue & Bluer" and Nastos on "Change Your Dreams." In fact, like Blakey, Lee allows plenty of space within his arrangements for extended soloing. The fast-paced arrangement for "Low Profile," though, is reminiscent of another arranger: Gerald Wilson. For it provides a minor-key framework for successive solos, rather than a melody, and the group's full-spectrum sound, from trombonist Stan Bock's low notes to trumpeter Derek Sims's high ones, make the septet's sound larger than it is. Furthermore, the "Low Profile" arrangement calls attention to Lee's ability to establish rich harmonic colors from but four horns. "Blue & Bluer" obviously is based on the changes of "Blue in Green," stated initially as a choral arrangement for horns without percussion before settling into, as is one of Lee's apparent trademarks, solos, expressively developed by Caranto and Nastos.

All we need to know about the changes of Lee's "Change Your Dreams" appears in the first five-four chorus. However, Lee creates interwoven call-and-response, and then harmonic descent, with Nastos and Bock before Nastos goes pleasantly Desmondesque in his solo. Lee's arrangement of "Machangulo" deserves full appreciation for, not only its harmonic palette, but also its percussive subtleties and the dynamic surprises the group accomplishes. Combining forces, Lee's excellent arrangements and Brown's septet are perfectly matched. This is no surprise due to the years that they have been working together, most regularly on Tuesday nights in a club owned and staffed by a supportive group of jazz enthusiasts.






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