September 2005

Nick "Brownman" Ali
Five Weeks For Miles, part 3: "Plugged Nickel" — The Shorter Years
September 16, 2005Trane StudioToronto
Nick Ali Miles Trane
by David Fujino with photo by Roger Humbert
Trumpeter Nick "Brownman" Ali is no poseur.

And he certainly doesn't shadow Miles Davis — even though the evening was all about Miles' music and his equally illustrious musicians Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams on that night of December 27, 1965, when they recorded classic performances at the Chicago night club, The Plugged Nickel.

When the host, Otis Richmond, said that tonight, at Trane Studio, Nick Ali was playing Miles Davis; Kelly Jefferson was playing Wayne Shorter; Adrean Farrugia was playing Herbie Hancock; Scott Peterson was playing Ron Carter; and Ben Riley was playing Tony Williams, we thought it was a useful conceit.

But lucky for us, the ebullient musicians sidestepped such musical role-playing, and they simply played themselves; after all, it's the whole point of creative improvising: history is you! now!

Nick "Brownman" Ali

Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" pulsed, its lilting and inward mood was then burst open by Ali's blistering run and his subsequent solo which combined hard bop and freebop playing, with spurts of Dizzy-like spirals and Dizzy's rhythmic vamping especially strong on tunes like "The Theme".

On every tune, we eagerly awaited Kelly Jefferson's dynamic and committed tenor, which incidentally, in its vectors, velocities and grainy high register singing throughout, evoked the cries of John Coltrane more than Wayne Shorter.

Bassist Scott Peterson's swift, two-handed and agile plucking and bowing, was a constant delight to hear and watch; Farrugia distinguished himself when calmly trilling for several bars and alternately playing swift staggered flows of interesting (Herbie Hancock) chords, while all the time, from the viewpoint of the driver's seat, drummer Ben Riley constantly supported, drove on, and contributed a clear and sensitive context to the evening's music.

On this particular Friday evening at Trane Studio — the third in a 5-part series of tributes to Miles Davis' music — 'involved' trumpeter Nick "Brownman" Ali and his kinetic bandmates, richly rewarded listeners with creative music performed in a spirit of fun, play, and joyful interplay.

Oh yeah, they played "My Funny Valentine" (played Harmon-muted by Ali in a rhythmically active yet gentle way), and Ali and Jefferson had some fun bouncing around — in a bell-like manner — 'Frère Jacques quotations' when playing on "If I Were A Bell".

All this to say, in the warm ambience of Trane Studio, we got down creative.

Prior to the performance, Brownman gave the members of his band a complete set list for the night including his performance interpretations, as well as some historical reference.
With Brown's kind permission, we are making this material available to our readers.
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David Fujino
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Roger Humbert
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