April 2008

Clifford Brown and Max Roach - Study in Brown
EmArcy/Speakers Corner MG-36037
Format: LP
Originally released: 1955
Reissue released: 2007

by Marc Mickelson

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

EmArcy Records began in 1954 and still exists today, its name the phonetic spelling of its parent company's initials -- MRC for Mercury Record Corporation. Founders Irvin Green and Bob Shad built a diverse musical roster, and trumpeter Clifford Brown along with drummer Max Roach became two of the label's important pillars. Study in Brown was released in February 1955 to acclaim for 24-year-old Brown's muscular playing, but he would die in a car wreck in January 1956, along with pianist Richie Powell, who also plays here. The accident tragically cut short a career that had Brown ranking with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis during his lifetime.

The music here is hard bop, the rhythm section of Roach and bassist George Morrow propelling these tunes from solo to solo. The playing is rife with musical ideas, the tunes acting as framework for exploration and swing. You can almost smell the perspiration that "Cherokee" and "Swingin'" caused, and Roach's drum work on "Lands End" epitomizes tasteful, understated cool. Roach also shines on "If I Love Again" and "Take the A Train," the precise, atmospheric sound making his drum kit seem bigger than the recording's mono origins might suggest.

I don't know what's in the vinyl in Germany, but Speakers Corner LPs are as black and shiny as coal and noticeably quieter than most US releases. Study in Brown is hushed down into the grooves, though curiously there was a bit of noise between a couple of tracks on side two, while the rest of the album was dead silent.

This is an exemplary LP -- music with a significant provenance presented with care and authenticity. Even the jacket indicates quality, with crisp reproduction of the images and deep colors on glossy stock. While no other label is reissuing EmArcy LPs, Speakers Corner has handful of them in their vast catalog. Good for them, and good for us.