Alan Braufman - The Fire Still Burns Music Album Reviews

Alan Braufman - The Fire Still Burns Music Album Reviews
Following the recent rediscovery of his 1975 album Valley of Search, the saxophonist releases a quintet set of all-new compositions that nod to jazz history while rocketing off to points unknown.

For crate-digging devotees of underground jazz, the 2018 rediscovery of saxophonist Alan Braufman’s 1975 album Valley of Search was an exciting development. Sparked by Braufman’s nephew (and Pitchfork contributor) Nabil Ayers, the reissue—originally recorded in the Tribeca loft Braufman shared with other musicians—added a small but vital piece to the puzzle of ’70s New York jazz. Braufman’s energetic quartet, including pianist and loftmate Gene Ashton, now known as Cooper-Moore, produced high-octane music, firing out each track in a single take.
But it turns out the Valley of Search reissue wasn’t the most exciting result of Ayers’ uncle-prodding. Not long after its release, Braufman, who moved to Utah in the ’90s, played with Cooper-Moore for the first time in decades, and Ayers suggested they make a new album. Braufman had spent the intervening years touring with other groups (including stints with Philip Glass and Psychedelic Furs) and recording as Alan Michael, but this would be just his second record under his own name. Brainstorming during commutes to his teaching gig at Utah State University, he quickly concocted a set of songs and assembled a quintet with Cooper-Moore’s help. They recorded The Fire Still Burns in a single day last September, at an upstate New York studio owned by the National.

As good as Valley of Search is, The Fire Still Burns is bigger and better. While Braufman and Cooper-Moore’s first album hinted at different modes, it dealt mostly in outward-bound free jazz. But here they weave many stylistic strands into a whirlwind performance. Brain-sticking hooks skid into impulsive sprints; moments of abandon build to straight-up swing. At times the group rockets away completely, only to hurtle back into grounded rhythms and repetitive vamps. The result is a sturdy suite that nods vigorously toward jazz history while sounding as fresh and immediate as a concert happening right in front of you.

That combination is captured best in “Home,” which Braufman wrote on a piano in just 20 minutes. It’s an instant classic centered on a huge hook that feels ripped from a lost ’60’s Impulse or Blue Note long-player. Opening with that riff over bassist Ken Filiano’s bowed strings, Braufman and tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis quickly ignite; when Andrew Drury’s insistent drumming lifts it, the group takes full flight. Along the way, Cooper-Moore’s piano chords flit around the rising horn figure, making “Home” feel both dizzyingly overwhelming and fundamentally reassuring. It blows you away, then catches your fall.

“Home” would be a big achievement on its own, but on The Fire Still Burns, no single tune exists in its own vacuum. Impeccably sequenced, with subtle fade-outs and hardly any pause between tracks, it plays like an eight-part suite (an effect inspired by Brafuman’s favorite Don Cherry albums, which he notes featured “tunes [that] didn’t stop, they evolve”). The thematic consistency comes mostly from group’s enthusiastic energy, allowing them to flow from the ceremonial piano strains of “Block Party” into the Ornette Coleman-like twists of “No Floor No Ceiling,” and from the loose, wandering title track into the syncopated funk of “City Nights.” Their vigor is so strong, it even turns the nearly saccharine ballad “Alone Again” into a sort of howling prayer, due purely to the collective heat of their tireless playing.

Perhaps that heat is what Braufman means when he says The Fire Still Burns. If so, it’s a convincing claim: He and Cooper-Moore haven’t lost any intensity in five decades, and their quintet sparks from the first note and never dampens. As flames engulf America in many ways, the title has added significance; like the ’60s jazz it echoes, Braufman’s music reflects turbulent times and impassioned resistance. But even with its many reference points, The Fire Still Burns shines a light all its own, fueled by unbowed creative minds.
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Alan Braufman - The Fire Still Burns Music Album Reviews Alan Braufman - The Fire Still Burns Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, September 18, 2020 Rating:

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