|| Charles Brackeen Quartet
Cat. No.: SHCD105
Charles Brackeen tenor and soprano saxophone
Dennis Gonzalez trumpet, fluegelhorn
Malachi Favors bass
Alvin Fielder drums
1. Three Monks Suite (Brackeen) 8:44
- Sugar Doll
- Waltz With Me
- Snow Shoes
- Hush and Stop
2. Open (Brackeen) 7:56
3. Allah (Brackeen) 8:24
4. Stone (Brackeen) Blue 9:36
5. Story (Brackeen) 9:27
6. Open (Take 2) (Brackeen) 9:38
Total time: 53:45
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"Gonzalez, Favors and Fielder play key roles on Bannar, the first
recording in 15 years by Brackeen, a former Texan with something of Coleman's
emotionally fortright delivery and rustic accent."
Francis Davis, Philadelphia Enquirer, April 7, 1988
"There is nothing studied or academic about this music; if anything Brackeen's
compositions have a beautiful folk quality to them which is all the more aided
by an ensemble of players who convey a deep sense of regional and spiritual place."
Ludwig Van Trikt, Cadence, September 1988
To better understand or pinpoint an artist's musical approach, most listeners
are bound to make comparisons that will give them an easy starting point. Such
is the case with saxophonist Charles Brackeen. Let listeners hear Charles' wide
vibrato in the altissimo range, and he or she will say, "Well, he plays like
Albert Ayler." Or, play Charles' Rhythm X LP with Charlie Haden, Don
Cherry and Edward Blackwell, and the same listeners might say, "Charles sounds
a lot like Ornette Coleman." Although Brackeen acknowledges both Ayler and
Coleman as influences, there can be no such comparison. After listening to this
album, it becomes apparent that Charles Beackeen carries his own Bannar.
Charles Brackeen was born in Eufaula, Oklahoma on March 13,1940, where he lived
until he was 11. Charles began his musical studies at the age of 6 when he started
taking piano lessons, and soon thereafter gravitated to the violin and finally
to the saxophone at age 10.
When he moved to Paris, Texas at age 11, Charles' Stint in the Gibbons High School
marching band gave him the confidence he needed to continue on saxophone. When
Charles moved to New York City at age 12, he spent his weekends playing in dance
bands, rock and roll bands, and whatever else he could get involved with. According
to Charles, "Music always paid off for me."
Charles' big move, however, came at age 16 when he first moved to Los Angeles.
He soon married and met ambitious musicians such as Don Cherry, Charlie Hayden,
Billy Higgins, Ornette Coleman, Paul Bley and Art Farmer, among many others. It
was in California that Brackeen became immersed in the New Jazz scene, learning
concepts that remain in his music until this very day.
Moving back to New York, Charles kept experimenting with new styles, but at the
same time continued to play all sorts of music. "I wanted to feel that I
could call myself a musician; that I could play all types of music," says
Charles, "I realized that I couldn't put any one type of music above any
Because of his adventurous concepts and his friendships with Cherry and Haden,
Charles recorded Rhythm X in 1969 and in due course this appeared on the
Strata East label (SES-19736). Although the quartet sounds on the surface much
like one of Ornette Coleman's mid-60's ensembles, Brackeen's own saxophone playing
shines through with a fresh lyricism that was a unique parallel development, not
merely a copy of the master.
The quartet disbanded (to become 'Old and New Dreams' a good many years later,
with Dewey Redman) and nothing further was heard of Brackeen until he joined forces
with drummer Paul Motian. "It was wonderful!" exclaims Motian, "I
thought he played my music really well." This association, which lasted for
five years, produced two fine Paul Motian LPs for ECM, Dance (1977) and
Le Voyage (1979).
Aside from the association with Motian, Charles stayed active on the New York
jazz loft scene and recorded an unreleased album with the Ed Blackwell Quartet
in 1982, which proved to be Brackeen's last record date until the 1987 sessions
Brackeen recorded Bannar after receiving a call from Dennis Gonzalez. "When
Dennis called, the idea felt good to me," says Brackeen, "I listened
to his voice and the things that he said. He seemed to be warm and friendly, the
type of person I like to deal with." Upon hearing Dennis' music, Charles
became increasingly excited about working with Dennis and the other musicians
on the session.
Not that it was easy. When the group first began rehearsing, there was some uneasiness
in the air as the quartet began dealing with Brackeen's more complex compositions.
Although drummer Alvin Fielder had played with both Gonzalez and bassist Malachi
Favors on different occasions in the past, the four had never worked together
as a group. After the initial discomfort, however, the musicians quickly became
a distinctly identifiable unit. There is something folkish about Charles' compositions,
a kind of logical transparency. The material on Bannar is challenging and
"Three Monks Suite" is a study in structure; a completely scored tune
with no improvisation. Almost nine minutes in length, this piece is made up of
seven different segments, each of varying content, which maintain musical continuity
"Chaos" begins the suite, sounding very much like classical chamber
music filtered through a shufflet Brackeen's soprano, sounding very clarinet-like,
is bright, fresh, and piercing, much like the first ray of sunlight through a
window at dawn. "Sugar Doll" is a delicious tango, featuring Favor's
arco responses to Brackeen's melodic call.
Ushering a time change from 4/4 to 3/4, "Waltz With Me" is irresistible,
an eminently danceable section. "Snowshoes" is also stunning; a playful,
vibrant segment that swings softly but fervently. "Hush and Stop" also
swings; featuring an exchange of fours between the group and Fielder. "Cas-Ba"
acts as a bridge to "Cheers," a happy-go-lucky ending with a lyricism
that's almost child-like.
Although fellow musicians could probably point to a strict use of form for the
tune's inspiration, Charles sees the street people with whom became in contact
in the last several years in New York and Los Angeles as his motivation for writing
"Three Monks Suite". "It's folk music; people music," says
Charles. "Understanding all races and nationalities of people taught me a
lot of mysterious things about my musical approach. People like music that can
talk to them; it's more universal."
"Open" not only talks it screams with delight. With its ascending
head chart and fast, intense pace, the track gives the musicians a chance to stretch
their knowledge and musical conceptions to the fullest. Brackeen's solo here is
free and urgent but is somehow also well mapped-out when Charles explores many
of his tenor's sounds. Dennis Gonzalez solos with equal vigor, splicing triple-tonguing
techniques and slurs with deep melodic concepts. Alvin Fielder also solos on "Open".
Here, Alvin's playing reconciles the thrashing, sensitive abandon reminiscent
of Sonny Murray with the precise polyrhythmic approach first associated with Elvin
Echoing his faith in the Creator, "Allah" is Brackeen's model of a jazz
spiritual. Although it's the simplest tune on this release, "Allah"
has much going for it. Over a gospelish bass vamp, Brackeen and Gonzalez stretch
long, impassioned notes using both horns and voices. Solo-wise, Gonzalez especially
impresses; his "gotta testify" approach on muted trumpet consists of
high, staccato blasts which warm the soul.
"Stone Blue" is a blues soaked track with an element of American Indian
tribal music in the head melody, perhaps reflecting some of Albert Ayler's endeavors.
Brackeen's solo on this tune has a dark sonority about it, as Charles explores
the middle registers of his tenor. Bassist Malachi Favors offers a rhythmically
buoyant solo, echoing the essence of the beautiful melody. As with the Art Ensemble
of Chicago, Favors remains true to a tune's intent and purpose.
Brackeen and Gonzalez create a wonderful harmonic frame for "Story",
which possesses a marvelous out-of-unison melody line. During his solo, Charles
makes use of the tenor's entire range, displaying his subtle altissimo and occasionally
dipping into the lower reaches of the instrument. Gonzalez's solo is equally bold.
Using the tune's spirit (as opposed to its structure), Dennis contributes gutteral
growls and sublime snippets of gospelish melody.
All in all, Charles Beackeen's banner waves high. With its organic, natural, and
spiritual approach, this recording is sure to move all who listen, while melting
away any musical preconceptions of a true individual.
Contributor to Jazziz Magazine