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Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra


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When it comes to integrating Asian musical traditions with jazz--the mission of the Asian-American jazz movement, which is headquartered in the Bay Area--no one has better credentials than percussionist and composer Anthony Brown. Brown even seems to have been born to the task--he's the son of African-American/Native-American and Japanese parents--but in fact began exploring the aesthetic and cultural implications of his far-flung roots only in the early 80s. He joined the now-defunct quartet United Front, whose bassist, Mark Izu, was presaging Asian-jazz fusion, then pursued a doctorate in ethnomusicology and worked as a curator of the Jazz Oral History Program at the Smithsonian before returning to his native San Francisco in the mid-90s. He has a lot of history at his command: though he's only 45, he speaks convincingly of Asian jazz's roots in 1960s Oakland; he's compiled the life stories of old bebop musicians; and his compositions, like those of his colleagues Jon Jang and Fred Ho, address centuries of cultural friction and synthesis. Brown's Asian American Orchestra, formed just this year, summarizes many of these experiences. It features his old running mate Izu as well as several of the artists who appeared on Brown's entrancing 1996 CD, Family (Asian Improv), including trombonist Wayne Wallace and AACM-inspired saxist Francis Wong; Chinese multi-instrumentalist Liu Qi-Chao, who plays bamboo flutes, the double-reed suona, and a Chinese mouth organ called the sheng; and four members of San Jose Taiko, a percussion ensemble built around traditional Japanese barrel drums. Spurred by Brown's drumming--itself a synthesis of jazz techniques and Asian rhythms--the AAO should provide the climax of the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival, which begins with a panel discussion and concert Thursday night, October 22, at the Chicago Cultural Center and also includes shows at HotHouse and Empty Bottle. Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 3 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago; 312-397-4010. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Andy Nazaka.

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