Monday, December 31, 2007

Music Review: Browns in Blue by The 5 Browns

A while back I posted a review on The 5 Browns, five piano playing siblings with loads of talent and a penchant for classical music. Since that time, the three sisters and two brothers have expanded their appeal and their range. Their youth, and attractiveness, have made them something of a star attraction among a younger crowd, allowing young people the experience of classical music, and make no mistake, The 5 Browns are not your grandad's version of classical musicians.

Yet, there is no denying their talent. Having a piano duet is hard enough as most pianists will tell you, but having five people playing different, overlapping parts of the same piece of music is amazing.

The latest from The 5 Browns is Browns in Blue, a disc with jazz inspired piano music that reinforces their skill with a little different attitude. As with their previous albums, the disc offers solo pieces and various combinations of duets and other arrangements, including their trademark five-part arrangements.

What impresses me most about this disc is not the selection of the pieces presented but rather the ability of the artists themselves to render the mood of the piece. For example, Ryan Brown's performance on Astor Piazzolia's Retrato de Alfredo Gobbi from History of the Tango, exudes the sometimes frenetic passion of the tango, but also displays the precision of the dance as well. That the tango and Ryan's playing, can convey both is a testament to the music and muscicianship.

Lacking a clear, note by note comparison, it may be hard to judge this statement, but each piece, even the truly "classical" works by Rachmaninoff, Schubert and Debussy, have a jazzy overlay, not necessarily a improvised note or sequence, but just a feel of something a little different. One would expect such a feel from Gershwin or even the newly commissioned work by John Novacek, but not from Brahms.

The Browns included three guest artists on this disc. Violinist Gil Shaham, unknown to me until now, trumpeter Chris Botti and Dean Martin. Each of the guests provides an addition to the music and depsite being featured, fails to overshadow the piano work. Shaham teamed with Deondra and Desirae Brown on Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals, but it is not my favorite piece. The piece is short, barely three minutes and just as you feel immersed in the work, it ends. Although the Piazzolia selection is just one second longer, it feels more complete than Saint Saens.

Now, I like Gershwin and have not come across a piece of his music that I didn't like. But the 5 Browns and Chris Botti teaming up on Home Blues from An American in Paris, is simply stunning. (Check out the video here).Even with Botti's strong trumpet in the foreground, you can't miss the complex piano arrangements in the background. The piece is classical/jazz/blues defined.

John Novacek, who created Reflections on Shenandoah for this CD, has a wonderful description of both the history and meaning behind tracscription, arrangement and working in a multiple piano setting in Music Notes on the 5 Browns's Website. Also included on that page is a description of how Dean Martin's "Everybody Loves Somebody" came to be included on Browns In Blue.

Music, as an artform, is in part original and in part derivative. While the 5 Browns are not writing their own music (yet), there is no doubt that their "derivative" portion of their artistry provides a new sound to older works. What seems to be captivating audiences is the diverting combination of youth, skill and the fact that they appear and sound like they are having fun. As the New York Post wrote after their debut in 2005, "When these kids do Rachmaninoff, they'll make you forget about Marshall amps.” Well, you may not forget entirely about Marshall Amps (I don't), it is easy to see and hear why the 5 Browns are packing arenas and winning converts--they make classical music "listen-able" and present it without all the stuffy tuxedos and formal presentation. Classical music, just as Browns in Blue shows, can have a fun, jazzy and yes cool side.

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