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Gentle Storm

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Album Review

After the hip left-turn that was 2006's Workin' — a live soul-jazz organ trio date with B-3 hotshot Kyle Koehler and longtime drummer Cecil Brooks III — Gentle Storm is a return to the studio and Don Braden's working quartet. With Brooks, pianist George Colligan, and bassist Joris Teepe, the saxophonist offers a deeply satisfying program of originals and covers. The language here is the same one that listeners first encountered in the 1980s when he began with the late Betty Carter and Wynton Marsalis, but it's a deeper, richer, far more elegant and sophisticated dialect now. Braden is a master improviser and arranger. His strategy in creating this date was to focus on "contemporary standards," and he doesn't mean Radiohead. The covers here are of tunes from the classic American songbook, such as "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "Willow Weep for Me," that have been resurrected in recent years — the former expertly by Charlie Haden's Quartet West — and newer tunes that have become "immortal" by means of their popularity over the last 30 years or so. One of the more stunning examples is this band's reading of Leon Russell's "This Masquerade," the vehicle tune for George Benson's meteoric rise to stardom in 1976. Braden's version is nothing like Benson's; its romantic sultriness is more a tinge here. Instead, he adds a gloriously soulful post-bop kind of swing, with finger-popping solos by Colligan and himself — the walking bassline by Teepe is sheer perfection. The deep soul in Russell's bridge is accented here repetitively. Another nugget that has been done a lot in the late 20th and early 21st century is the Ned Washington/Victor Young number "My Foolish Heart." Singers have recorded it mostly. (Kurt Elling's version stands out as one of the best.) But Braden turns it into a deeply romantic and contemplative duet for flute and bass. Its lyric is complemented by the strident yet nearly solo bassline by Teepe. Another highlight — on an album full of them — is the reading of Lee Morgan's "Speed Ball." Braden's intuitive tenor takes that melody and makes it swagger and strut, before getting knotty in his extrapolations of it in the solo. Aside from these righteous covers, Braden's compositions are the watermarks on the recording. The title cut begins quietly, full of shadow and mist, but opens up almost immediately with his tenor solo. Brooks' hi-hat shimmer and the beautiful voicings in the upper middle register of Colligan's piano accent both the romance and the implied danger, and add tension and release. The other duet here is an original called "The Hunter." The solo by Teepe is notable for its swinging cool that contrasts sharply with Braden's dense note clusters. That said, the melody would have been perfect in a noir film from the 1950s. In all, Gentle Storm is solid, top to bottom. Braden is a highly original soloist who possesses not only technical chops that are redolent of his generation, but also the deep soul that comes from the two preceding it. His compositions hold their weight against classic tunes, and his arrangements are full of welcome surprises and delight. This is a real watermark for the saxophonist and his quartet.


Born: 20 November 1963 in Cincinnati, OH

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Don Braden is an impressive tenor saxophonist whose style pushes at the boundaries of hard bop while staying a solid part of the tradition. He was raised in Louisville, KY, and began on tenor when he was 13; within two years, he was playing professionally. He played in the McDonald's All-American High School Jazz Band and, although he studied engineering at Harvard (1981-1984), Braden also played in the Harvard jazz band. In 1984, Braden moved to New York, working with the Harper Brothers, Dr. Lonnie...
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Gentle Storm, Don Braden
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  • $16.90
  • Genres: Jazz, Music
  • Released: 15 July 2008

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