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Culture: Brown's got a mind and mouth for jazz; Paris-based trumpeter Damon Brown makes a rare Birmingham appearance at Ty's on Saturday. Martin Longley reports.

Byline: Martin Longley

Six years ago, trumpeter Damon Brown decided to correct his mouth muscles. This was an act which directly prompted his complete commitment to jazz music.

It's something that all horn players always dread. When it's time for a chops change, their complete embouchure structure needs to be transformed.

Brown explains: 'If you're trying to do a complete chops change, it's better to just stop working altogether. You could work, but the more you work, the less quickly you adopt the new position.

'Basically, I was largely self-taught and I picked up the wrong blowing technique. I was playing the trumpet almost like it was a trombone, which means you can get a great big sound and a lot of air through the instrument. It's basically an exercise in compression.

'During that time, when you re-set, you sound like a foghorn. There's nothing you can do about it. In that period of taking time off I started to write more and more specifically for a quintet. I wrote pop songs before that, but I was always into jazz.'

Brown became side-tracked by his pop and reggae session work and in recent years has devoted his time solely to jazz.

'The call of work meant that jazz took a back seat to funk, reggae and soul, he says.

'I was trying to earn a living, but I always kept a foot in there, working with Big John Patton and Weldon Irvine. I always had improvisation at the centre of my mind.

'I started running my own band four to five years ago. Six years ago, I was doing a fair bit of jazz and a lot of pop session work - a lot of work with reggae and ska musicians.'

Indeed, trombonist Rico Rodriguez appears as a guest on Brown's most recent album - 'That's a very old connection I worked with Rico and Prince Buster, and The Specials with Desmond Dekker.' It's two years since Brown left London. He was in Barcelona for a year and has now settled in Paris, so he doesn't operate with a fixed band personnel any more.

This Saturday's lineup at Ty's arrives during a UK tour that comes as a response to his recent visits to Japan and Italy. He's invited drummer Yoshida Masahiro and pianist Antonio Cicca along as part of what Brown hopes will be an ongoing exchange programme. British bassist Geoff Gascoyne completes the team.

Brown has toured the UK five times in as many years, but the first time I'd seen him play was at last year's Coventry Jazz Festival gig with the Ed Jones Nu Quartet.

That brilliant group was a real highlight of the weekend, and was also the first time I'd stumbled across drummer Seb Rochford, now a rapidly-rising leader with his own Polar Bear outfit.

Brown's first album was A Rhythm Indicative, setting out a policy of highlighting original compositions. It was followed by Blues On The Run, which featured Italian tenorman Renato D'Aiello, and Good Cop, Bad Cop, a collaboration with Israeli players that Brown had met while playing the Red Sea Jazz Festival.

Saturday's gig will concentrate almost completely on self-penned material. Comparing his own band to the similar line-up led by saxophonist Ed Jones, Brown concludes his own tunes have a more accessible nature, governed by his background in pop music. He believes that they're melodically more obvious.

Last year, he released A Bigger Picture, which featured pretty much all of the members of what seems to have become very much an inter-breeding collection of London players.

'There is a definite pool of musicians that inhabit Highgate and Kentish Town,' he agrees. 'Leon [Greening], myself, Christian [Brewer]. Christian and I actually went to school together. We all know each other socially, as well as musically.'

Brown will be at the Brecon Jazz Festival in August, playing host to Steve Grossman, the old soprano and tenor saxophone sidekick of Miles Davis in his early 1970s funk incarnation.

His next album will probably feature some of his new acquaintances on the French jazz scene, but he's also looking towards a US project with pianist Bruce Barth and saxophonist Steve Wilson - both known for their work with Chick Corea.

Maintaining the internationalist spirit, Brown and reedsman Alan Barnes will be working with a Finnish team towards the end of this year. And as if all this wasn't sufficiently exciting, the trumpeter will be touring with Benny Golson's quintet in the summer months.

The Damon Brown Quartet plays at Ty's Bar & Restaurant, Sparkbrook, on Saturday night (Bookings: 0870 0660868).
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 15, 2003
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