Alison Brown Quartet,
(Compass, 2002)

Here's an album that was created in joy and will be heard in the same way. These 15 tracks are tunes that the quartet, consisting of Alison Brown on banjo and guitar, John R. Burr on piano, Garry West on bass and Kendrick Freeman on drums, had played live. They spent two days in the studio cutting these tracks as a demo for venues to show what the band was capable of in concert, but to the quartet's surprise, the relaxed atmosphere had produced a CD's worth of tracks that demanded to be released, and we should all be glad they were.

Replay is a real treat, made up of tunes that the band has played for years, but which have changed and evolved during that time. It's always great to hear a banjo playing jazz, since it's such a percussive instrument and can make great rhythmic contributions. "Red Balloon" shows it off to its fullest, braced nicely by the rhythm section and the chordal foundation of Burr's piano. "Lorlei" comes across as a rollicking sea shanty given a jazz reinterpretation, and "Late on Arrival" absolutely rocks with a spectacular drum solo. Brown demonstrates her awesome ability to play single-line jazz guitar on "Daytime TV" and has great fun trading fours with Burr. Grant Green would dig it. "My Favorite Marsha" blends rock and cool jazz, and "Spiderman Theme" is handled as straight-ahead jazz, with a burning solo showcase by Burr.

The band finds a mellow, laid-back groove in "Without Anastasia," while "The Inspector" is a fine guitar romp. Brown nods to her bluegrass roots at the start of "Chicken Road" before getting down and funky, and "G Bop" zooms right along as a thumpin' piece of, well, bop. Flecktone fans will love this track. "Etoufee Brutus?" and "Shoot the Dog" are mile-a-minute burners, and Burr's right hand is a blur on both, with powerful solos. "Mambo Banjo" shows the variety of sound that Brown can pull out of the banjo, with her second solo almost sounding like steel pans. The whole affair closes sweetly and delicately with her intricate guitar work on "The Promise of Spring."

Replay offers a heaping helping of terrific compositions and flawless musicianship. Whether you're a fan of banjo, jazz or new acoustic music, this one's a must-have. I can't wait to hear the quartet's next demo!

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 22 March 2003

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