“Clifford Brown, I would say, had a style akin to Fats Navarro. That was his inspiration. Clifford was so fresh, he was young, he was fresh and he was exuberant-beautiful sound, everything.” Sonny Rollins 2009
According to the opening sentence of Leonard Feather’s original liner notes for Blue Note’s Memorial Album, ‘It seems that in jazz the good, especially if they play trumpet, die young”. There’s only one thing he gets wrong: Brownie was not good, he was great! Aged just twenty-five, Brown died in a car accident on 26 June 1956 and this album, as is clear from the title and its catalogue number, was released that same year.
The tracks that make up side 2 (‘Brownie Speaks’, ‘De-Dah’, ‘Cookin’’, ‘You Go To My Head’ and ‘Carvin’ The Rock’) were recorded a few blocks from Times Square at WOR radio in New York, and mark Brownie’s debut as a leader, even if the session was billed as the Lou Donaldson-Clifford Brown Quintet. Some were originally released in 1953 as Lou Donaldson/Clifford Brown New Faces, New Sounds on Blue Note 5030, while side 1 (‘Hymn Of The Orient’, ‘Easy Living’, ‘Minor Mood’, ‘Cherokee’ and ‘Wail Bait’) came out as New Star on the Horizon, Blue Note 5032. It was produced by Alfred Lion, Blue Note’s founder, with photography by Francis Wolff and a Reid Miles cover design. You can hear the expanded Rudy Van Gelder remaster here.
Apart from the addition of Lou Donaldson on alto saxophone on the second session the two are very similar, both in ambience and feel. Brown’s brilliance on his runs, his plump tones invoking the spirit of his hero Fats Navarro who had died a few years earlier is so enticing. The speed of his playing, and the way ideas tumble from his horn on numbers like ‘Bellarosa’ and ‘Carvin’ The Rock’ is breathtaking, while Brownie makes Ray Noble’s well-known jazz tune ‘Cherokee’, entirely his own.
As exciting as his playing could be on mid- and up-tempo numbers, it is on the slower tracks such as, ‘You Got To My Head’ and ‘Brownie Eyes’, that Clifford Brown sounds utterly sublime. In his case, ‘gone too soon’ is a truly fitting musical epitaph. For a contemporary view of Brownie Quincy Jones said this in Downbeat in August 1956.
”Here was the perfect amalgamation of natural creative ability, and the proper amount of technical training, enabling him to contribute precious moments of musical and emotional expression. This inventiveness placed him in a class far beyond that of most of his poll-winning contemporaries. Clifford’s self-assuredness in his playing reflected the mind and soul of a blossoming young artist who would have rightfully taken his place next to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and other leaders in jazz.”