Clifford Brown-Lionel Hampton: Gryce Suite, Brown Skin
Gryce Suite: Brown Skin
Lionel Hampton Orchestra
Lionel Hampton Orchestra - Mustermesse Basel 1953, Part 2 (Swiss Radio Days, Volume 18 - TCB 02182)
Walter Williams, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones (trumpets); Jimmy Cleveland, Buster Cooper, Al Hayse, Benny Powell (trombones); Gigi Gryce, Anthony Ortega, Clifford Scott, Clifford Solomon, Oscar Estelle (saxophones); Billy Mackel (guitar); Monk Montgomery (bass); Alan Dawson, Curley Hamner (drums).
Composed by Gigi Gryce.
Recorded: Mustermesse, Basel, Switzerland, September 24, 1953 for live radio broadcast
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
Brownie met and jammed with some members of the 1953 Lionel Hampton Orchestra in Atlantic City while he was playing a show there led by pianist Tadd Dameron. The young Hampton musicians were thoroughly impressed with Brown’s electrifying playing and affable personality, and one in particular, Quincy Jones, begged Hamp to hire the trumpet star. There were several like-minded modern jazz ‘young lions’ in the band, besides Jones, to whom Brown was attracted: Gigi Gryce, Art Farmer, Benny Golson and Jimmy Cleveland, to name a few. Brownie joined the band and played some dates at the Band Box in New York City directly prior to flying to Europe with the band for a three-month tour. The tour was highly successful, and has become legendary for the incredible amount of clandestine recording that took place in Sweden and Paris by most of the young modernists. Lionel (and wife Gladys) Hampton strictly forbade any outside recording by band members (if he wasn’t involved), under threat of denying passage back to the States. However, the studios clamored to record the young stars, and, fortunately for us, the edict was ignored. “Brown Skin” is a feature for Clifford by Gigi Gryce on the chord changes to “Cherokee.” I mention the above background, because once those recordings started to come out, Hampton was less likely to feature his sideman this prominently, as he didn’t want people to hear and record his band members behind his back. This performance was prior to most of the recording dates and subsequent releases.
After a brief announcement by Hamp, the band goes into a bombastic intro, the brass shimmering and drums rolling. This quickly relaxes into a sweet ballad presentation by Brownie. The arrangement is very forward-looking and something akin to what Stan Kenton was exploring. Clifford is smooth, effortless, and lush. After a terse fermata chord, Brown sets a bright tempo with a solo break, joined by the bass, and then the full band assists as Brown glides into a chorus of “Cherokee” changes. On his second chorus, band interchanges alternate with his brilliant solo statements, his long phrases leaving the listener breathless at times. The full band takes an interlude on the tune’s A sections and Clifford re-enters on the bridge, deftly quoting “Laura” in the upper register. He solos through the last A section as the band punctuates and concludes the tune with solo trumpet over Dawson’s high-hat time to wild applause from what sounds like a vast crowd in attendance.
Though the overall sound quality is, by modern standards, quite inferior, the strength and power of this great band is readily apparent. The minor deficiencies in ensemble work are supplanted by the energy of the group as a whole and certainly by Brownie’s never-ending musical palette. He expertly modifies his phrases in slight ways in order to retain continuity of ideas, which provides cohesion to his solo. Brown and nine others were ultimately fired from the band for their secretive recordings and found themselves back in the States in early December 1953 without employment. However, Brownie would soon become widely known to the music world through those recordings and those put out by Blue Note and Prestige.
Reviewer: Al Hood