Liner notes for Cameron Brown and the Hear & Now:
Here and How! (OmniTone 15205)

"Here and Now" by Jeff Schlanger

"Here and Now"
Original art 27½" x 39½" (70 x 100 cm) made during live performance at the Knitting Factory,
© Jeff Schlanger, Music Witness,®
26 October 1997.

"Very specifically, we're trying to listen, and we're trying to be present.  To me, that's what music is about."  The clear and present mission of a man and his band —Cameron Brown and the Hear and Now —heard here.  After 40 years of performing and recording with Don Cherry, the George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet, Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, Dewey Redman, Sheila Jordan, and Joe Lovano, Cameron Brown presents his first album as a leader.

Cameron's vision stems from his very visceral experience of the music, first as a listener, then as a player.  "In one of the first workshops I ever did, [I] somehow spent a half an hour trying to describe what it felt like to sit in front of Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones" recounts Cam, "That level of focus and intensity, that level of playing, you don't find much today.  So, in whatever small way I can, I try to carry on the tradition of that concept."

Even though he grew up in Detroit, Cameron had his circuits opened in his early teens in New York.  On some of their frequent Big Apple visits, Cam's parents took him to the Village Vanguard and other clubs.  There, the young teenager heard perhaps the most intense and driven jazz at that time: the Miles Davis Quintet (with Paul Chambers on bass), the Thelonious Monk Quartet, the John Coltrane Quartet (with Jones and Garrison), Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, and others.

Cameron started studying music at age 10, first on piano, later on clarinet.  But, drawn to the bass, Cam found himself playing a tin bass in a student dance band.  By the time he graduated at 17, one too many visits to New York made his parents justifiably reluctant to send him to study at Columbia University.  They enrolled him in a foreign exchange program that landed him in Sweden in 1963.

Cameron returned to the States and attended Columbia.  Over the next few years, he split his time between Europe and Columbia.  He worked with the George Russell Sextet and Big Band for one year; played with Don Cherry, Aldo Romano, Booker Ervin, and Donald Byrd; and returned in 1966 to finish college.

1974 marked a watershed period for Cameron.  He met Sheila Jordan, gigged with new music pioneers Roswell Rudd and Beaver Harris, joined Archie Shepp's quintet (replacing —get this —Jimmy Garrison!) in 1975, recorded with Jordan in the same year, and hooked up with Harris' band, the 360 Degree Music Experience around that time.

In 1979, Cameron joined saxophonist George Adams, pianist Don Pullen and drummer Dannie Richmond to form the George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet.  For 8½ years, until Richmond's untimely death, Cam filled the bass chair amidst these core musicians from Mingus's last great band.  Says Cameron, "It was the band of my lifetime.  I loved Don.  I really felt like Pullen was genius, and to be standing next to Dannie Richmond every night was the ultimate graduate school."

Here and How! brings Cameron full circle by harkening back not only to his roots in the music, but also to the very roots of modern jazz.  "To work with somebody like Sheila who literally goes back to Bird, it just has a tremendous meaning for me," says Cameron.  Inviting his former employer, tenorman Dewey Redman, to join the band further realized his dream of having Jordan and Redman work together.

Recorded live in Belgium and sponsored by Jazz'Halo, a pioneering jazz arts organization, the album spotlights music written by people important in Cameron's life —namely, Cherry and Pullen —as well as presenting two original compositions.  For such repertoire, the natural picks were melodically sinewy trumpeter Dave Ballou and drum innovator Leon Parker.

"Art Deco" debuts lyrics that Jordan wrote at the request of Cherry himself, titled "The Art of Don." Cameron's arrangement of "For All We Know," with its transparent and almost ethereal melding of bass and voice and Redman's equally limpid saxophone solo, demonstrates the sophistication of simplicity that comes from master musicians.

"Rylie's Bounce" grew out of Cam thinking about Miles Davis and "how Miles uses those little chromatic runs." Cameron woke one morning with the more-or-less complete lyrics recalling the joy of his son Rylie and the toddler's bouncy dance to Walter Davis' "Greasy" on Jackie McLean's New Soil album.

Jordan opens Cherry's "Remembrance" (from Complete Communion) in the evocative quasi-chantform scatting she credits to her Native American lineage.  Ornette Coleman's "What Reason Could I Give" —a favorite of Cherry —opens with Cameron's warm bass solo and leads into the touching ballad "For Dad and Dannie," a tune dedicated to Cameron's father and to drummer Dannie Richmond, "definitely two very significant male figures in my life," adds Cameron.  The two died within five months of each other.

Just like it did when Cameron was part of the Adams-Pullen band, Pullen's rousing "Double Arc Jake" closes the set.  "It's such a brilliant tune that it was the featured tune of the repertoire for the first two or three years of the band's existence.  We would close the first set with this tune and, invariably, it would take about 45 minutes to play." While this version runs just a bit shorter than that, it is fittingly filled with the intensity Cameron Brown and the Hear and Now strives for.

Concludes Cameron, "I come from the generation just after that very intense generation of the late '50s, early '60s.  That spirit is what I want to bring to the people." Here hear!

                     —Frank Tafuri

[For the complete interview with Cameron Brown —including many, many fascinating stories, his biography and discography, and more, please visit: www.OmniTone.com/hereandhow.]

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