August 07, 2004
Maurice Brown staggered backward as he blew into his trumpet. This repeated exuberance over his note selection and loud bursts seemed a little dramatic and insincere at first. Sure, what he was doing sounded great, but it was as if he was just trying to trick the audience into believing what he was doing was fantastic by overemphasizing his motions. When I saw Brown Saturday morning at Satchmo Summerfest, I hadn't seen him before, and all I knew about him was the hype surrounding the young trumpeter. Also, he was wearing those clear Bono-type sunglasses--"ego" glasses, as I like to call them. So, during the first song, I wasn't having it. I was thinking, "These people have been hoodwinked. Bamboozled."
I was wrong. His set turned into an inspirational modern jazz experiment in blending jazz, soul, and hip-hop. Brown was backed by a saxophonist, bassist, pianist and drummer. Brown tempered his outbursts as the set went on. As his talent and the talent of his band became more obvious, I became more accepting of his affirming movements. Brown turned out to be a humble performer, cheering on the success of his bandmates and covering his heart every time the audience clapped after one of his solos.
Most of his songs were original bop or hard bop excursions, the most interesting of which had a hip-hop beat or a soul groove. Brown played the title track of his new CD, "Hip to Bop." It was great how he got the band to layer the song. He got the drummer to first lay out a elemental hip-hop beat, and then the bassist came in with a line that covered just enough of the drummer's notes so that the drummer's artistry wasn't drowned out. Next, the piano, and then the saxophone and Brown came in together. Brown got the crowd clapping. It was really great to see Brown pushing the envelope of what jazz could be.
Brown surrounded himself with wonderful musicians. The saxophonist was silly good, even though he wasn't effusive. He was standing next to the exuberant Brown, so this may have been an optical illusion. Pianist Jonathan Batiste was the same way. During many a solo, the bassist looked down at him like, "How are you doing that?" I thought the same thing, but I realized in the midst of something mind-boggling, it's better just to turn my brain off and go with it.
Brown' set started at 11 a.m., so he was at a disadvantage. A crowd showed up to cheer him on soon enough. It was actually better he didn't play later in the day. The dancefloor hadn't gotten hot yet, so the people were having a great time out there.
The hype was real.