"Gonzalez, Favors and Fielder play key roles on Bannar, the first recording in 15 years by Brackeen, a former Texan with something of Coleman's emotionally fortright delivery and rustic accent."
Francis Davis, Philadelphia Enquirer, April 7, 1988
"There is nothing studied or academic about this music; if anything Brackeen's compositions have a beautiful folk quality to them which is all the more aided by an ensemble of players who convey a deep sense of regional and spiritual place."
Ludwig Van Trikt, Cadence, September 1988
Charles Brackeen was born in Eufaula, Oklahoma on March 13,1940, where he lived until he was 11. Charles began his musical studies at the age of 6 when he started taking piano lessons, and soon thereafter gravitated to the violin and finally to the saxophone at age 10.
When he moved to Paris, Texas at age 11, Charles' Stint in the Gibbons High School marching band gave him the confidence he needed to continue on saxophone. When Charles moved to New York City at age 12, he spent his weekends playing in dance bands, rock and roll bands, and whatever else he could get involved with. According to Charles, "Music always paid off for me."
Charles' big move, however, came at age 16 when he first moved to Los Angeles. He soon married and met ambitious musicians such as Don Cherry, Charlie Hayden, Billy Higgins, Ornette Coleman, Paul Bley and Art Farmer, among many others. It was in California that Brackeen became immersed in the New Jazz scene, learning concepts that remain in his music until this very day.
Moving back to New York, Charles kept experimenting with new styles, but at the same time continued to play all sorts of music. "I wanted to feel that I could call myself a musician; that I could play all types of music," says Charles, "I realized that I couldn't put any one type of music above any other."
Because of his adventurous concepts and his friendships with Cherry and Haden, Charles recorded Rhythm X in 1969 and in due course this appeared on the Strata East label (SES-19736). Although the quartet sounds on the surface much like one of Ornette Coleman's mid-60's ensembles, Brackeen's own saxophone playing shines through with a fresh lyricism that was a unique parallel development, not merely a copy of the master.
The quartet disbanded (to become 'Old and New Dreams' a good many years later, with Dewey Redman) and nothing further was heard of Brackeen until he joined forces with drummer Paul Motian. "It was wonderful!" exclaims Motian, "I thought he played my music really well." This association, which lasted for five years, produced two fine Paul Motian LPs for ECM, Dance (1977) and Le Voyage (1979).
Aside from the association with Motian, Charles stayed active on the New York jazz loft scene and recorded an unreleased album with the Ed Blackwell Quartet in 1982, which proved to be Brackeen's last record date until the 1987 sessions in Dallas.
Brackeen recorded Bannar after receiving a call from Dennis Gonzalez. "When Dennis called, the idea felt good to me," says Brackeen, "I listened to his voice and the things that he said. He seemed to be warm and friendly, the type of person I like to deal with." Upon hearing Dennis' music, Charles became increasingly excited about working with Dennis and the other musicians on the session.
Not that it was easy. When the group first began rehearsing, there was some uneasiness in the air as the quartet began dealing with Brackeen's more complex compositions. Although drummer Alvin Fielder had played with both Gonzalez and bassist Malachi Favors on different occasions in the past, the four had never worked together as a group. After the initial discomfort, however, the musicians quickly became a distinctly identifiable unit. There is something folkish about Charles' compositions, a kind of logical transparency. The material on Bannar is challenging and melodic
"Three Monks Suite" is a study in structure; a completely scored tune with no improvisation. Almost nine minutes in length, this piece is made up of seven different segments, each of varying content, which maintain musical continuity throughout.
"Chaos" begins the suite, sounding very much like classical chamber music filtered through a shufflet Brackeen's soprano, sounding very clarinet-like, is bright, fresh, and piercing, much like the first ray of sunlight through a window at dawn. "Sugar Doll" is a delicious tango, featuring Favor's arco responses to Brackeen's melodic call.
Ushering a time change from 4/4 to 3/4, "Waltz With Me" is irresistible, an eminently danceable section. "Snowshoes" is also stunning; a playful, vibrant segment that swings softly but fervently. "Hush and Stop" also swings; featuring an exchange of fours between the group and Fielder. "Cas-Ba" acts as a bridge to "Cheers," a happy-go-lucky ending with a lyricism that's almost child-like.
Although fellow musicians could probably point to a strict use of form for the tune's inspiration, Charles sees the street people with whom became in contact in the last several years in New York and Los Angeles as his motivation for writing "Three Monks Suite". "It's folk music; people music," says Charles. "Understanding all races and nationalities of people taught me a lot of mysterious things about my musical approach. People like music that can talk to them; it's more universal."
"Open" not only talks – it screams with delight. With its ascending head chart and fast, intense pace, the track gives the musicians a chance to stretch their knowledge and musical conceptions to the fullest. Brackeen's solo here is free and urgent but is somehow also well mapped-out when Charles explores many of his tenor's sounds. Dennis Gonzalez solos with equal vigor, splicing triple-tonguing techniques and slurs with deep melodic concepts. Alvin Fielder also solos on "Open". Here, Alvin's playing reconciles the thrashing, sensitive abandon reminiscent of Sonny Murray with the precise polyrhythmic approach first associated with Elvin Jones.
Echoing his faith in the Creator, "Allah" is Brackeen's model of a jazz spiritual. Although it's the simplest tune on this release, "Allah" has much going for it. Over a gospelish bass vamp, Brackeen and Gonzalez stretch long, impassioned notes using both horns and voices. Solo-wise, Gonzalez especially impresses; his "gotta testify" approach on muted trumpet consists of high, staccato blasts which warm the soul.
"Stone Blue" is a blues soaked track with an element of American Indian tribal music in the head melody, perhaps reflecting some of Albert Ayler's endeavors. Brackeen's solo on this tune has a dark sonority about it, as Charles explores the middle registers of his tenor. Bassist Malachi Favors offers a rhythmically buoyant solo, echoing the essence of the beautiful melody. As with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Favors remains true to a tune's intent and purpose.
Brackeen and Gonzalez create a wonderful harmonic frame for "Story", which possesses a marvelous out-of-unison melody line. During his solo, Charles makes use of the tenor's entire range, displaying his subtle altissimo and occasionally dipping into the lower reaches of the instrument. Gonzalez's solo is equally bold. Using the tune's spirit (as opposed to its structure), Dennis contributes gutteral growls and sublime snippets of gospelish melody.
All in all, Charles Beackeen's banner waves high. With its organic, natural, and spiritual approach, this recording is sure to move all who listen, while melting away any musical preconceptions of a true individual.
Contributor to Jazziz Magazine
1. Three Monks Suite (Chaos, Sugar Doll, Waltz with Me, Snow Shoes, Hush and Stop, Cas-Ba, Cheers) 08:52
2. Open 08:01
3. Allah 08:30
4. Stone Blue 09:42
5. Story 09:35
6. Open (Take 2) 09:40
Charles Brackeen tenor and soprano saxophone
Dennis Gonzalez trumpet, fluegelhorn
Malachi Favors bass
Alvin Fielder drums