Alison Brown

Alison Brown Quartet

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Alison Brown, believe it or not, is a five-string banjo player. The rest of her quartet is a standard jazz ensemble consisting of piano, bass, and drums, and you can be confident that there's nary a bluegrass lick anywhere on this album. Like her compadre Béla Fleck (to whom she must be absolutely sick of being compared), Brown figured out some time ago that the banjo is a fully chromatic instrument with every bit as much melodic flexibility as a guitar, and that its clear, crisp tone is perfectly suited to jazz. It works especially well as a bebop instrument, which Brown demonstrates on this album's opening track, the rollicking, Charlie Parker-ish "G Bop." It also works pretty well as a cool jazz instrument, which Brown demonstrates on the album's second track, the loping, Bill Evans-ish "Red Balloon." This sort of stylistic variety is grist for Brown's mill, but it doesn't always work in her favor: "My Favorite Marsha" (one of several tracks on which she switches to guitar) is nice but borders on new acoustic sappiness -- her guitar playing is good but not exceptional. However, "Without Anastasia" draws nicely on classical influences without sounding pedantic, and "Banjo Mambo (Revisited)" is a very fun Latin romp.

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