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Clifford Brown Memorial Album (1953)

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Gigi Gryce

Like swing guitarist Charlie Christian, Clifford Brown was incredibly influential for someone who died so young. The Fats Navarro-minded trumpeter was only 25 when a car accident claimed his life in 1956, but his influence remained long after his death -- Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Woody Shaw, Donald Byrd, and Carmell Jones were among the many trumpet titans who were heavily influenced by Brown. In the early to mid-'50s, Brown kept getting more and more exciting; those who found him impressive in 1952 found even more reason to be impressed in 1955. That means that when it comes to Brown's CDs, excellent doesn't necessarily mean essential. Recorded in 1953, the material on this 18-track CD isn't quite as essential as some of Brown's work with drummer Max Roach in 1954 and 1955, but is still superb. The trumpet icon is heard at two different sessions -- one with saxmen Gigi Gryce and Charlie Rouse, pianist John Lewis, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Art Blakey, the other with Heath, alto saxman Lou Donaldson, pianist Elmo Hope, and drummer Philly Joe Jones (who in 1953 was two years away from joining Miles Davis' quintet). Brown's solos are consistently expressive; he swings unapologetically hard on up-tempo fare like "Carvin' the Rock," "Cherokee," and Quincy Jones' "Wail Bait," but is quite lyrical on the ballads "You Go to My Head" and "Easy Living." One thing all of the performances have in common is a strong Fats Navarro influence; Navarro was Brown's primary influence, although Brown became quite distinctive himself at an early age. Casual listeners would be better off starting out with some of Brown's recordings with Max Roach; nonetheless, seasoned fans will find that this CD is a treasure chest. ~ Alex Henderson