Thursday, November 10, 2016

New Releases: Andy Brown's Direct Call

Born in New York but currently based in Chicago, Andy Brown, 41, is one of most accomplished jazz guitarist on the scene nowadays. Barely a year after the release of his lovely solo album, Soloist, Brown returns with an equally fantastic quartet outing entitled Direct Call (Delmark 5023), which very appropriately showcases the versatility and depth of his playing. Influenced by great guitarists such as Joe Pass, George Van Eps, Howard Alden (with whom he has also recorded for Delmark), and Kenny Poole, Brown has been around for quite a while and has had the chance to play alongside the likes of Harry Allen, Ken Peplowski, and Kurt Elling, to name but a few. He often collaborates with his wife, the vocalist Petra Van Nuis, and when in Chicago, you can always catch him at some of the most renowned clubs in the Windy City, such as The Green Mill and Andy's Jazz Club. At the latter he appears with his quartet, which is featured on this highly recommendable new album, and which includes Jeremy Kahn on piano, Joe Policastro on bass, and Phil Gratteau on drums. Writing in the October issue of Downbeat, critic Michael Jackson has called Brown a "classy guitarist" and his new CD "a swingin' affair," and he's absolutely right on both counts. It's at once rewarding and refreshing to be able to listen to this kind of unabashedly swinging music, and at the end of its 10 selections, the album actually leaves the listener hungry for more.

It doesn't hurt that Brown has had the opportunity to record with his working band, a group of outstanding musicians who understand one another perfectly. The CD was cut in a single session in Chicago in December 2015, and from the opening track, Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges's "The Jeep Is Jumpin'," we have the instant feeling that we're in for a treat. Though the accent is always on the swinging nature of Brown's guitar playing, there's a wide variety of tunes on the album, from dazzling displays of technique and velocity like "Catch Me" to the funky and bluesy overtones of Hank Mobley's "Funk in Deep Freeze" to Latin excusions such as Johnny Mandel's "El Cajon" and the Jobim-Vinicius tune "Ela E Carioca," which is one of the highlights of the disc. The title track, "Direct Call" is a classy reading of "Appel Direct," taken from the Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli songbook and used as a vehicle to show off the seamless interplay between Brown's guitar and Kahn's piano. On the slower side we have "Relaxing," while the somewhat overlooked Hoagy Carmichael composition "One Morning in May" is taken at a faster pace. The strangely titled "Freak of the Week," with its hip, bluesy melody, is the perfect album closer, with some solid playing by Brown and some interesting contributions from Kahn. As noted, there's a lot of swing on the record, yet the most memorable track is a ballad. Russ Columbo's classic "Prisoner of Love," approached with gusto and elegance, showcases Brown's most lyrical, intimate side and is a pleasure to hear. Overall, this is an outstanding album that works as the perfect introduction to Andy Brown's exciting guitar artistry.

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