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October 21 , 2010

Marion Brown 1931-2010

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of Marion Brown, the poetic alto saxophonist whose 1970 album “Afternoon of a Georgia Faun” counts amongst the enduring classics of the post-free jazz era. Brown, born in Atlanta but a New York resident at the time of the great upheavals in the music, played on two of the fiercest new jazz statements of the 1960s, John Coltrane’s “Ascension” and Archie Shepp’s “Fire Music”, thereafter exploring less blistering levels of intensity in his own work.

Brown had been sidelined by illness for much of the last three decades, and most of his recordings are no longer in print. His sole ECM disc, “Afternoon of a Georgia Faun” is, however, still available on CD. If its line-up suggests, retrospectively, an ‘all-star’ session – the cast includes Chick Corea, Bennie Maupin, Anthony Braxton, Andrew Cyrille and Jeanne Lee – the collective spirit prevails: it’s an egoless and quietly playful recording that dances in its own, fluid way.

“Music slipped away from the dance,” Brown noted regretfully in on essay on “Afternoon” in his book “Recollections” (1983). “And the art of improvisation withered away in a box seat.”

Just this year Jazz Times looked back at “Afternoon of a Georgia Faun” as one of the “Essential Avant-Garde Recordings of 1970”: “In a sense, this suite could be seen as a bridge between the American and European schools of improvisation, but in actuality it’s an island unto itself. Saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Brown crafted an abstract pastorale, an Impressionist thicket of nature sounds. It’s a ‘soundscape’ not in the usual ambient sense of the word but in the more literal idea of a sonic landscape, a fragmented idyll. It’s a singular, uncategorizable work that hints at a programmatic path for free jazz rarely explored since.”