Ari Brown
"Live at the Green Mill"

Live at the Green Mill

Review by Brad Walseth

This is the meat on the bone! Ari Brown brought his intelligent and brawny saxophones and powerful backing band to the legendary Green Mill stage and magic happened. Full of songs that recall the glorious late 1950s era of Coltrane and Miles and the Wayne Shorter/ Miles groups of the '60s, and featuring a band that can live up to the task. Fortunately for us, Delmark Records' Robert Koester and his crew captured this live event, both as a CD and as a DVD.

The incendiary "Richard's Tune" opens up and sounds like a thrilling ride on the "Blue Train" hurtling down a mountain switchback, with Brown and young trumpet star Pharez Whitted producing a formidable front line horn section. Underappreciated pianist Kirk Brown plays some stunning lines, while the rhythm section of talented former Sun Ra drummer Avreeayl Ra, bassist Yosef Ben Isreal and percussionist Dr. Cuz drive the engine. According to the liner notes, this song was written by Brown in the '50s, and it seems like a timeless gem from the era.

Of course, Brown doesn't just burn on this date; he simmers quite nicely too on the ballad, "One for Skip," which again showcases brother Kirk's lovely caressing touch on the keys. A tribute to a friend who committed suicide, this song is especially poignant.

Meanwhile, Delmark's video production improves with every release: they added lighting to improve the notoriously dark Green Mill; richly colorful montages sometimes fill the screen; while one of the best elements is the use of split screen to show more than one member of the band at a time (for example pianist Brown on one half, while Ra or Ben Isreal are shown on the other half (or in another effect a corner). The results are wonderful and the next best thing to a visit to the storied club itself.

Ari Brown picks up the soprano sax on the grooving "Shorter's Vibes," and gives it a thorough, Coltrane-inspired workout. Ra and Cuz provide an exciting bed underneath, while Ben Israel is his solid propulsive self. Kirk Brown's fingers seemingly reach from here to Memphis, and his bluesy and intelligent solos reward the listener.

Brown alternates between tenor and soprano sax and then astoundingly plays both at the same time on the funky "Two Gun V." Kirk Brown adds some tasty electric keyboard on this number. "Kylie's Lullaby" features the multi-talented bandleader on flute. Rising star, Whitted matches Brown's emotion with his lovely muted trumpet solo. This young artist is making a name for himself with his creative and intelligent playing.

This fine set ends with the stirring "Evod," which although referencing Miles and Wayne, remains entirely within Brown's original vision. Brown solos with such a relaxed feel that belies the command and ferocity inherent in his playing. Whitted chimes in to match his leader's intensity, while the band interplay is remarkable, with Ra's drumming pushing us to a fully satisfying conclusion that leaves us wanting more from this inspired group, yet thankful for what was recorded here. The CD is great, but I recommend the DVD, which contains a bonus track, the marvelous 11:38 'Waltz of the Prophets."
Live at the Green Mill

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