In this tenor saxophone town, Ari Brown has long stood tall, and with the passing of revered tenor giants Von Freeman and Fred Anderson, he stands even taller. To be a true Chicago tenor, it’s never enough to play “tough” – you also need to develop your own identity. That’s what Brown has done over the years. A soloist who was strongly influenced by John Coltrane, he has developed his own intense melodic style. He’s equally comfortable blowing free and hugging a groove, be it hard bop, soul-jazz or funk.
Brown’s strong recent album, Groove Awakening, is a typically varied set that includes a reggae-dipped reading of Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament;” an original on which he creates striking harmonies by playing tenor and soprano saxophones simultaneously, a la Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and tributes to two other departed Chicago jazz favorites, Ken Chaney and Malachi Thompson.
There’s no substitute for the closeness that defines his longstanding group, which includes his brother, Kirk Brown, on piano, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, Avreeayl Ra on drums and Dr. Cuz on percussion. “The band whole band is like family,” he says. And the family that stays together plays very well, indeed.