Magic! Not tea-cosies & sweet old-ladies wi’ hot-cross buns mind you. I am talking about some serious thaumaturgical, divination, shamanic shit here…& it’s DEEP! Marion Brown was a very special character. You could take ten of the best & have them play the same basic note/lick & I bet Marion would make it animate in his own quintessentially Marion manner that you could pick out quite easily. He plays with a rare honesty/vulnerability, total emersion & lack of pretension that’s unique as far as I have heard. His array has many other qualities, all pretty aberrant & exceptional, but a specialized way of playing that’s very distinctive & although great technically it’s much more a richness & very personalized energy & shape that make him so stand-out. conceptually also, as a leader, he gathered & conduced some of the most precious, adventurous & unique albums/ensembles during his most intrepid & Free/Avant-Garde period, before, very unfortunately – becoming much more commercial/traditional & sententious with his recordings & direction (think after a lot of personal turmoil in his own life). Marion is also particularly interesting because he has become somewhat a cult figure (if an enthusiast tells you they dig Marion Brown then you know they are in deep), having a very dedicated following & a massive lineage of recordings. Somehow though, & accordingly with Marion’s quaintness & iconic mysteriousness perhaps? – he is kind of obscure & very few of his albums are still in print.
ANYHOW! Geechee Recollections. My favourite recording from Marion so far (I have most of his work) recorded in 1973 & issued on Impulse! Records. Marion convenes Leo Smith on trumpet & Steve McCall on drums, James Jefferson on bass/cello, William Malone on thumb-piano, autoharp & Axaste, & two African percussionists Jumma Santos & Abraham Kobena Adzenyah on a whole horde of drums & “miscellaneous instruments”. On side A’s second cut “Karintha”, poet Bill Hassan joins the crew.
The album is a dramatic & exotic clash of ultra Avant-Garde esemplasticating with substantial & authentic traditional African styles & instrumentation. On one lone track “Buttermilk Bottom” we get a bit more traditional territory of Jazz & Blues as the albums single exception. Everything else is “out-there”, a lot if it profoundly so. It sounds like the gang are playing in a museum of instruments….there is this endless oscillation & alteration of sounds (especially the percussion, cymbals & chimes) changing & changing. considering that Leo Smith & McCall (Steve spends most of his time behind the drum-kit) also contribute to percussion at stages, you may well have four percussionists at once creating an ebullient commotion. the ear & spirit are dazzled by this array (at least mine) effulgent, constantly surprising & shifting. It’s very ritualistic & exotic. like a microcosm, the sounds become like life-forms or organisms moving in their own manner through rain-forest foliage. & then you have Marion himself. Sometimes very focal, sometimes much less conspicuous & often absent even. The medicine-man walks in & out of the celebration when he pleases & does not prioritise his presence. His playing is amazing & utterly original!!! Everybody’s playing/contribution is awesome. the whole thing just becomes this giant kaleidoscope of fantastic colour, weirdness & elliptical brilliance. What’s also very’ very special is that the “flame-throwing” familiar Free-Jazz approach is barely exercised (hey! I love flame-throwing!), nor is the sparse & space-obsessed “Flot” style of Avant-Jazz. This is really a “third way” & feels very alternative & at odds with the associated categories/definitions in many respects. The album has gone so far off the conventional radar & pulled it off so astoundingly well. It is really like a piece of sonic magic. I could break the individual tracks down as is usual, but I feel it’s kind of unnecessary. I will say though that every track is great. The B side however really takes it beyond with a sprawling piece, I think played in one go but separated into a solo Introduction from Marion Brown & a an Ending from Leo Smith. The rest/centre comprises of the track Tokalokaloka (parts 1,2,3). The procession just runs riot, & ends up in a parallel zone a long’ long’ long way off.
If forced to keep only ten albums from my stash, Geechee Recollections would definitely be on the list. Really incredible stuff. Thankfully, it’s still available on a CD reissue that also includes Marion’s follow up album Sweet Earth Flying.