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2 May 2010

Marion Brown - 'Afternoon of a Georgia Faun' (ECM)

I was in the car with Rob, and I don't remember exactly what kind of car it was - some old late 80's clunker piece of shit, like a Chrysler K car or an old Chevy. Long and boxy, and on it's last legs. We were on the Merrit Parkway in Connecticut, certainly a pleasing stretch of American highway if there ever was one. It was cold outside; maybe snow on the treetops; not the heat-drenched Southern sunshine this record makes me think of. But back then, I had never heard it, and he pulled out a Maxell Type II cassette with Afternoon of a Georgia Faun dubbed onto side A (with some Cerberus Shoal CD on the flip), and threw it in the deck. 'This is like birds playing in a birdbath, splashing around,' he said, and I now know that he is right, but at the time, I couldn't really hear it. Cause when you're going 65 mph in an old car, there's a lot of wind and distractions, and you can't always hear quiet, sparse nuanced music. I could tell that this was a delicate beast, and at the time it reminded me of the early Art Ensemble of Chicago jams - the little instruments and all that. But I honestly couldn't hear it; I could only feel Rob's enthusiasm for what he believed was one of the great forgotten masterpieces of it's era (1970). The car started to overheat so we actually had to wind the windows down and turn the heater on full blast, the logic being that the heat would be drawn out through the dashboard. It worked - we didn't break down, but it rendered 'Afternoon of a Georgia Faun' unlistenable at the time. It didn't matter to me; sometimes a friend's enthusiasm/passion is all it takes to make me a true believer. When I got home I ebayed this and finally got to explore 'Afternoon of a Georgia Faun' in the relative solitude of my own flat. The birdbath analogy has always stayed with me (even if I am remembering the rest of this story incorrectly) particularly because of Jeanne Lee and Gayle Palmoré's soaring voices. Invented instruments, percussive drops, and a genteel sense of spatial exploration make this a true classic. But it's a different thing than the Art Ensemble's explorations - it's the Sea Ensemble that I would probably put this closer to, in the way it breathes and pulses and seeks harmony instead of Dada. Side B's wonderful 'Djinji's Corner' was also a pleasant surprise - continuing the open poetics of the first side, but with a bit more energy, some propulsive snaredrum taps (courtesy of Andrew Cyrille) and maybe a bit of theatrics that are missing from side A. The lineup is great - Braxton is back with us sooner than later on our alphabetical sojourn, though he is really a sideman, despite playing 8 different instruments. I'm not sure which parts are his, Brown's, or Bernie Maupin's, but it doesn't matter at all - it's all a swirling, yet coherent abstraction. It's strange to me how this record is relatively obscure - I mean, it's not a legendary classic, but it probably should be - I've never seen reissues floating around as frequently as Brown's ESP stuff, but I think it towers over many similar approaches to sound organisation . Seek this out if you haven't heard it; it's a beautiful, magical slice of black vinyl.

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