Rich Brown is a Bass player from Canada who has played with the likes of Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Coleman and Angelique Kidjo. His two previous albums have flown under the radar somewhat. This album has been self-released, albeit that part of the finance has come from crowd funding, an increasingly popular resource as the bank balances of record labels shrink.
Abeng is the name of the album and the group. The name comes from an animal’s horn used by escaped slaves (maroons) in the West Indies as a musical instrument and a means of signaling. It resonates of Brown’s heritage and musical intent.
The group is made up of fellow Canadians, Luiz Deniz (Alto Sax), Kevin Turcotte (Trumpet), Kelly Jefferson (Tenor Sax), Chris Donnelly and Robi Botos (piano and Fender Rhodes), sometime Snarky Puppy Larnell Lewis (drums) and Rosendo “Chendy” Leon (percussion).
Stylistically the music on offer is Jazz Fusion, before that term got confused with smooth jazz, with some progressive influences. On the evidence of this album Brown’s style is more Jaco Pastorius than Marcus Miller, neither of which is a bad thing.
The opener “Mashishmatish” (named after one of the album’s executive producers) starts fittingly enough with the cry of the horn, hitting its groove as the tempo hits frenetic and the saxes really open up. Melody and groove are also firing for “Window Seat” this time with Alto Sax and Fender Rhodes. Throughout Luiz Deniz’s sax playing is first-rate, wonderfully articulate and melodious.
The title track is deliberately subdued, evocative of the Abeng’s origins amongst the slave communities of the West Indies. The starkness of “Chant of the Exiled” is is in contrast to the gentle, melodic “Promessa”, a likeable ballad in the Robert Glasper mould. This is one of the few tracks that features an extended bass solo and gives Brown a chance to be more expressive.
“This Lotus Ascension” does as it says on the tin, slowly building to a rolling crescendo of flailing drums and sax before pausing for air and rolling out wistfully.
The last tune, “Achilles & the Tortoise”, is probably my favourite combining all the elements that make this album work.
The album has grown on me the more I have listened to it, although I’ve not quite been able to shake my initial reservations. The main reason for this is that at times I find the bass, and the drums to a degree, to be a little too prominent, overwhelming my senses. That said there are plenty of good tunes on offer so if rhythm is your thing then fill your boots.