Pete Brown & Phil Ryan: Perils of Wisdom
This album came out eighteen months ago – but given that Pete is right now putting together the finishing touches to what promises to be a fascinating film based on and around his long career and his book 'White Rooms and Imaginary Westerns' – plus the fact that he recently delivered a well-received stonking live set at the Skegness Rock and Blues Festival, I thought it was well worth having a fresh listen.
Working again with long time collaborator, arranger and keyboard genius Phil Ryan, an old mate from his Piblokto band days, this album is a rich mixture of mainly jazz based numbers, laced with a bit of swing and an occasional laid back blues. The arrangements on this fusion of material are absolutely terrific and are the solid core making of the album with Phil's keyboard and the superb sax, trombone and horns frequently mixing it and overlapping with the sweet female backing vocals. Pete would be the first to admit to not having the biggest range or the most distinctive of voices, but as with all his stuff, this is as much about the lyrics as anything else and they are as strong and as interesting as ever. Whatever the project, Pete seems always to have been true to his roots of poetry and lyric.
Given that he set out over fifty years ago reading poetry in The Partisan coffee bar in Soho and segued through working with the beat poets, lyric writing with Jack Bruce and much other material for Cream, plus establishing himself as a sought-after record producer by others in the industry, it is great to see that he can still turn a lyric for himself.
As always, some of his stuff is ironic and humorous ..'Don't Want Nothing Old In My Life', some is wistful and mournful as with the poignant 'Eva's Blues' and - as you would perhaps expect from a long-time bolshie rebel - some can be angry and bitter.....as in ' Living In The Sleaz System'. For me though, everything comes together on the final track 'Go Down Fighting' where the stunning quality of the arrangement (every instrument breaking out a groove) shines through and Pete's lyrics...' we are only growing; when we come back we'll be really blowing' kick the track along to mean effect.
An interesting album that is in some ways a curate's egg of work with some tracks more notable than others. It reminded me briefly of the material jazzman Tony Kinsey did with the poet Christopher Logue in the sixties. Good jazz-based arrangements and fine words can work if they are fine tuned.