Alison Brown

The Company You Keep

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Jazz banjo virtuoso Alison Brown has carved out a unique musical niche for herself by combining a number of conventional elements in a personal way: her style of jazz is quite straight-ahead without sounding either old-fashioned or even really traditional, and her compositions are richly complex without ever sounding avant-garde or even self-consciously progressive. Perhaps most impressive of all, she never seems defensive about the fact that she's using a five-string banjo to play jazz -- her jazziest material sounds effortless and natural, but she also has no compunction whatsoever about bringing bluegrass and Celtic elements into her sound. On The Company You Keep she is playing and writing at the peak of her powers: "Crazy Ivan" opens the program in a minor key and a complex meter; "Forky on the Water" is a traditional fiddle tune arranged with a lovely Caribbean lilt; ":The Clean Plate Club" is strutting country-jazz that would sound at home on an old Bob Wills recording. "The Road West" is an adaptation of a tune by Irish accordionist Martin O'Connor, one that allows Brown to demonstrate her unique genius, which is to put chromatic sophistication completely in service to melodic beauty. The program closes with "Waltz for Mr. B," a sweet and quietly joyful tune written for Brown's infant son. "Drawing Down the Moon" is a slightly overlong slow number that tends to meander a bit, but it's the closest thing there is to a misstep on this excellent album.

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