The Mystery of Flight


Marion Brown
Sweet Earth Flying
Impulse : 1974

MB, alto and soprano sax; Muhal Richard Abrams, organ, electric piano, piano; Paul Bley, organ, electric piano, piano; James Jefferson, bass; Steve McCall, drums; Bill Hasson, percussion.

His Name Is Alive
Sweet Earth Flower
High Two : 2007
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Warn Defever, guitar, piano; Justin Walter, trumpet; Michael Herbst, alto sax; Elliot Bergman, tenor saxophone, Rhodes; Erik Hall, electric piano; Jamie Saltsman, bass; Dan Piccolo, drums; Jamie Easter, percussion; Olman Piedra, congas, cajon.

It’s a little odd to consider that after more than one hundred years of mechanized flight, there still remains some argument regarding the forces required to keep a plane aloft.:

How can aviation be grounded in such a muddy understanding of the underlying physics? As with many other scientific phenomena, it’s not always necessary to understand why something works to make use of it. We engineers are happy if we’ve got enough practical knowledge to build flying aircraft. The rest we chalk up to magic.

A similar magic is at work in Sweet Earth Flying. Impossible to quantify precisely, involving equal parts sweetness, ground, and uplift, the album presents a spellbinding series of performances from this undersung musical genius.

The third installment in a loose trilogy of albums centered on bucolic themes of a Southern childhood, Sweet Earth Flying presents two side-long suites of music. “Sweet Earth Flying, Part 3″ follows Brown as he evokes something of the late Coltrane quartet’s furious questing, though dialed back, seemingly looking for a level place to land. The first of “Eleven Light City”‘s four parts showcases a harder blowing Brown against a shape-shifting swirl of dueling keyboards, courtesy of Paul Bley and Muhal Richard Abrams. McCall is also killing throughout.

These cuts offer a flavor of the larger suites. Unfortunately, the album itself, like much of Marion Brown’s excellent oeuvre, remains stubbornly out-of-print. If Impulse won’t give this a physical reissue, here’s hoping they’ll remaster it and make it available digitally. It’s a testament to Brown’s music that despite its unavailability, his star continues to rise, at least in rock circles. Superchunk dedicated a song to him and His Name Is Alive went one better.

As a bonus, we’re offering a track from the recent Brown tribute album assembled by His Name Is Alive mainman Warn Defever. HNIA’s version of the title cut highlights the gentler, more atmospheric aspects of the original date. (Thanks to High Two for allowing us to post it.) The rest we chalk up to magic, too.

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6 Responses to The Mystery of Flight

  1. An inspired choice! I’ve much love for all of Marion Brown’s titles on Impulse! and Sweet Earth Flying, arguably the most spiritually-oriented of the three, slightly edges the others as the personal favourite. So can anyone confirm whether Brown intended a trilogy as described by John Emerson in the idiocentrism link? I’d always gathered the three Impulse! titles (and not Afternoon) to form some sorta loose collection. Perhaps Emerson had less infinity for Stevie Wonder covers?

  2. Certainly a lovely album. And I rather like the HNIA tribute as well.

  3. I’m loving that tribute track, beautiful.

    And I also like that my verification word was ‘mtume’

  4. Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful record. The more Marion Brown I hear, the more fascinated I become with him.

  5. Sweet Earth Flying + Geechee Recollections = a new 2-on-1 re-release by Impulse (in my CD player as I type this).

  6. Wow – that’s a terrific reissue! Thanks for letting us know, John!

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