Monday, November 1, 2010

Instrumental CD of the Month - "Asian American Orchestra: India & Africa - A Tribute to Coltrane"

Instrumental CD of the Month
Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra: "India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane" (Water Baby) 2010

For the last dozen years, drummer-percussionist-composer Anthony Brown's innovative Asian American Orchestra has reinvented classics of American music by composers Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and George Gershwin from a Pacific Rim perspective by mixing instruments of European and American vintage with those of various Asian cultures. Now, with the release of "India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane," the 16-member ensemble brings its unique multicultural vision to 12 compositions written by and/or associated with John Coltrane.

The late, great jazz saxophonist himself utilized an international array of flavors in his music. Coltrane wrote pieces drawing on classical Indian modes ("India"), West African polyrhythms ("Africa"), Andalusian flamenco flourishes ("Olé"), and the polyphonic pitches of Central African Pygmies ("Dahomey Dance"). Utilizing such instruments as trumpet, trombone, saxophones, sheng, shakuhachi, sarod, tabla, various African drums, piano, bass, and his own trap drum set, Brown arranged those tunes, along with "Living Space," "Invocation," "Liberia," and "Afro Blue" (penned by legendary Cuban conguero Mongo Santamaria) for the new CD, which was recorded live on April 21, 2010, at Yoshi's in Oakland.

"Although Coltrane was influenced by music globally, when he recorded 'India' and 'Africa,' he did not incorporate instruments from those cultures," claims Brown. "The Asian American Orchestra has extrapolated Coltrane's original vision by including Indian and African traditional instruments into these masterworks, thereby giving them a more contemporaneous and global dimension in the 21st century."

Born in San Francisco and currently based in Berkeley, California, Anthony Brown is the son of an African-American father and a Japanese-born mother who met in Tokyo following World War II. A leading force in expanding the rhythm possibilities of jazz, Brown has collaborated over the past three decades with such giants as Max Roach, Cecil Taylor, Julius Hemphill, Wadada Leo Smith, James Newton, Anthony Davis, Tim Berne, and Sir Roland Hanna.

Brown earned a doctorate in ethnomusicology from UC Berkeley and served during the mid-1990s as Curator of American Musical Culture at the Smithsonian Institution, for which he lectured on and performed the music of Duke Ellington and others, and collected oral histories from many of jazz's most important figures. He also served on an advisory board in revising and expanding the multi-disc Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology.

After several years at the Smithsonian, Brown decided to return to full-time music-making. "I soon realized that I didn't want to be an archivist," he explains. "I didn't want to write about history. I wanted to have my shot at making history."

Brown did not abandon writing entirely, however. His contribution to John Coltrane & Black America's Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music, just published by Oxford University Press, examines Coltrane's expanded tonal and harmonic vocabularies in the years just before his death in 1967. The chapter provided the initial impetus for Brown to begin applying his Pacific Rim perspective to Coltrane's music.

Two charter members of the Asian American Orchestra -- bassist and sheng (Chinese mouth organ) player Mark Izu and trombonist Wayne Wallace -- appear on "India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane" as featured soloists. Also showcased on the recording are saxophonists Masaru Koga & Melecio Magdaluyo, trumpeter Henry Hung, pianist Glen Pearson, sarod player Steve Oda, tabla drummer Dana Pandey, and, in his debut with the ensemble, veteran percussionist Kenneth Nash.

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