Recorded at Brooklyn's BRIC House, The Brown Beatnik Tomes features bassist Ron Carter collaborating with poet and painter Danny Simmons in a live concert setting, transforming works from Simmons' book Brown Beatnik Tomes into a stirring multimedia performance experience. The poems represent Simmons' inspiration to update the style and voice of iconic beat authors like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg, but from a contemporary African-American perspective. In keeping with the coffeehouse style of the original beatniks, these are intimate acoustic performances in which Simmons delivers his literate, evocative spoken-word poems as Carter offers sympathetic walking bassline accents and bluesy grooves. The performance even included projections of the paintings Simmons made to accompany the poems in his book. On the album, we get the declamatory "The Final Stand of Two Dick Willie," the tribute to the late writer Amiri Baraka "For a Pistol," and the sensual "Tender." Also making an appearance is poet and activist Liza Jessie Peterson, who joins Carter for a reading of her timely piece "Where Do I Begin," a composition that opens with a striking list of notable names, including Sandra Bland, Freddie Grey, Eric Garner, and other African-Americans who suffered violent deaths. All of these poems are deeply thoughtful and visually compelling, touching upon themes of racism, police brutality, spirituality, politics, and freedom. Also included are two instrumental performances featuring Carter's trio with pianist Donald Vega and guitarist Russell Malone, including urbane renditions of "Here's to Oscar" and "There Will Never Be Another You."
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar