Marion Brown

Duets

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This double LP, featuring sessions that Brown recorded with Wadada Leo Smith in 1970 and Elliott Schwartz in 1973, is weird, expansive, and a little puzzling. Though it's missing the obvious spiritual overtones, Duets treads on the same psychedelic jazz turf previously occupied by John Coltrane's Kulu Se Mama and Pharoah Sanders' Karma -- anything goes, and the more unusual instruments, the better. "Soundways Part 2," for example, features everything from fiery solo saxophone cries to bizarre video-game synth outbursts to percussion tumbles to romantic-style piano improvisations to pensive clarinet bleats to Sam Rivers-like ecstatic vocalizations, all performed in real time by Brown and Schwartz. Despite the unusual instrumentation and a large number of unexpected and bizarre structural changes, Duets hangs together surprisingly well. But even given the number of instruments the musicians play, the record feels a bit too sparse. There's a lot of energy here, and Brown, Smith, and Schwartz are all excellent musicians, but they're spread thin from playing so many instruments. Their non-virtuoso performances would work better in a larger ensemble, where the musicians wouldn't have to develop new ideas as quickly. Fans of the all-over-the-map approach that Sanders, Noah Howard, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago often took from the mid-'60s through the early '70s will probably appreciate Duets, but others may wish the album had been called Quintets or Sextets instead.

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