Oscar Brown Jr. ‘Between Heaven and Hell’ (Superbird) 3/5

oscar-brown-rThis 1961 recording by jazz vocalist Oscar Brown Jr. fits neatly into a trio of albums the Chicago born musician recorded for Columbia and this no frills re-issue contains some excellent songs. In particular ‘Mr Kicks’ enjoyed a resurgence of interest during the 1980s and is a catchy number that has featured on many a jazz compilation with big band orchestration courtesy of a then young Quincy Jones. In a similar vein is ‘When Malindy sings’ which is a real cooker of a tune. Thematically Brown aimed to have the original vinyl release divide into two parts reflecting the title and ‘Hazel’s Hips’ is another winner which could belong to either side depending on one’s liberal or conservative attitude. Brown would subsequently gain notoriety as a vocalist on Max Roach’s ‘We Insist! Freedom Now Suite’ and among his most enduring performances are the vocal reworkings of Mongo Santamaria’s Afro Blues’, Miles Davis’ ‘All Blues’ and Bobby Timmons’ ‘Dat Dere’, all bona fide classics and heavily aired by DJs during the 1980s jazz dance revival.

Although purely on musical terms this album scores a clear four stars, the paucity of time on offer (barely thirty-five minutes) when the third album for Columbia, ‘Tell it like it is’, could have been added, detracts from the overall product. Greater thought needs to go into the packaging (little information on musicians accompanying) and value for money time and elsewhere with Tyrone Davis and Ohio Players re-issue, For anyone beginning to search out Oscar Brown Jr, the ACE records compilation makes for a better all-round introduction.

Tim Stenhouse