Browns in Blue

The 5 Browns

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Browns in Blue Review

by Patsy Morita

Browns in Blues is the title of the 5 Browns third disc, but don't expect that the family of five pianists has put together an all-jazz album. This is their "chillout" album, definitely something of an eclectic mixture of works -- classical and jazz, old and new -- that somehow still manages to hang together enough to give off an overall laid-back, go-with-the-flow kind of vibe. As with their other albums, each of the Browns heard in one or two solos as well as in two-piano, five-piano, and piano six-hands pieces. There are arrangements by Greg Anderson tailored to the Browns, which add to the already classic melodies of Rachmaninov's 18th Variation from the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Debussy's Clair de Lune, and the bonus track where the Browns accompany Dean Martin in "Everybody Loves Somebody." The extra parts may be viewed as unnecessary puffery, but what Anderson did is no more than Leopold Godowsky did to Saint-Saëns' "The Swan" or Earl Wild to Gershwin's "Embraceable You," both heard here as solos by Melody and Desirae, respectively. In the case of the Rachmaninov, the extra filling is more improvisational sounding, which then makes the group as a whole sound like it's not always together. Sometimes the pieces seem to plod along without too much of a sense of direction or purpose, or even a full understanding of the music, as in the case of Gretchen am Spinnrade as played by Ryan. But, then again, the point of the album is the mood, ranging from lushly romantic to melancholy to just plain mellow, and covering what otherwise would be a strange collection of composers, from Schubert to W.C. Handy. An exciting highlight is "Reflections on Shenandoah," commissioned by the Browns from pianist/composer John Novacek. It's a work that hauntingly renders the folk song as a mini-tone poem depiction of the river. The Browns are also joined by guests Gil Shaham in another selection from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals and Chris Botti in an excerpt from Gershwin's American in Paris.

In keeping with the low-key approach, the notes for the album are inconsequential on purpose, but for those who have them and actually read them, they can also be enigmatic. (Why is Sibelius given a co-composer credit on Vaughan Williams' "Dives and Lazarus," and is the Dean Martin song deemed a "bonus" track just because it's not mentioned at all in the notes?) That, plus the unusual program and sometimes the interpretations prevent most of the hardcore classical world from ever taking the family seriously, but those who already are fans of the 5 Browns or are willing to try something different (and possibly fun) will definitely want to have this album. It is a chance to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the music with them.

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