Brown Boulevard Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Dancing with Duke
John Brown is a master of many skills. He began to play the double bass when he was just 9, and hardly big enough to reach the full range of the strings. He has an extensive education, having graduated from both the University of North Carolina-Greensboro School of Music, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Law. He teaches at several universities in North Carolina, including Duke; he plays with several symphony orchestras; he’s a “first-sought” bassist as a sideman; and he fronts his own trio, quintet and larger groups.
And occasionally sleeps.
He has performed with numerous name artists and vocalists — including the Marsalis clan, Rosemary Clooney and Diahann Carroll — and he won a Grammy Award as a co-writer of Nnenna Freelon’s album Shaking Free.
Dancing With Duke, Brown’s second album, was released from his own studio.
Brown worships Duke Ellington, and this release features 10 of the latter’s most famous tunes. As the album title implies, each track is done at a danceable tempo ... which is to say, close dancing: the kind enjoyed by couples in love ... or falling in that direction. Even the relatively up-tempo tunes are done at a danceable pace. That’s unusual these days, particularly with a trio.
Brown is backed by pianist Cyrus Chestnut and drummer Adonis Rose: one of the tightest, highly grooving rhythm sections I’ve heard in a long time. Even if you haven’t danced for awhile, these guys make you want to move your feet. Chestnut’s style, a delightful combination of gospel and light bop, fits perfectly with Brown’s solid beat; Rose also is a solid and tasteful compliment to the group.
As for the tunes selected, I’m particularly moved by this rendition of “Solitude.” You don’t often hear a bowed bass solo, and this one is superb. You’ll recognize many of these standards — “In a Mellow Tone,” “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” “Perdido,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and “I Got It Bad” — and it’s refreshing to hear the lesser-known “Pie Eye’s Blues” and “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing.”
All in all, this is a neat album.