Charles Brackeen

Charles Brackeen, a saxophonist, is a legend among those who value and respect the numerous traditions of creatively-improvised music, which have evolved as a continuum after the trailblazing of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane, Pharoah Bernie, Marion Brown and John Tchicai. Brackeen, whose tone is similar to John Gilmore’s, has not been adequately recognized. He has also never received any compensation beyond fragmentary compensation for his contribution to the art and craft of improvisation. He was born in Oklahoma on March 13, 1940. He spent some time in Texas and California before moving to California in 1956. Before settling on the saxophones, he studied violin and piano. After working with vibraphonist Dave Pike, trumpeter Art Farmer, and Joe Gordon, he started to play with more progressive improvisers such as Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins. Joanne Grogan, whom he also made music with, was his wife. Brackeen and Joanne had four children. They moved to New York in 1965 and later divorced. Brackeen was a strong-toned alto and tenor player by 1968. He also displayed remarkable dexterity on his soprano saxophone, sounding almost like Pharoah Sands on that instrument. Rhythm X, released on the Strata east label, was a reunion in a sense as Brackeen interacted on the record with Cherry, Haden and Ed Blackwell to create a set that they had improvised together. It was worthy of Ornette Coleman’s mentor. Brackeen, along with Dewey Redman and Frank Lowe, made a comeback in 1973 on Cherry’s Relativity Suite. Brackeen shared elements with each of these incredibly expressive reedmen. In 1975, Leroy Jenkins, a violinist in the Relativity Suite, invited Brackeen to record the album for players only with 17 other instrumentalists. Jenkins’ first album, For Players Only, was also a product of the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Association. It featured such great minds as Dewey Redman and Jerome Cooper. Brackeen’s participation in such a high-quality ensemble was a significant event that affirmed his uncompromising commitment to music. Brackeen performed live in May 1976 as part of a sextet that was led by Ahmed Abdullah. Douglas/Casablanca released Volume 3 of their legendary Wildflowers: New York Loft Sessions in 1977. It included a wonderful excerpt from their set. Abdullah, Brackeen, drummer Roger Blank, and bassist Ronnie Boykins were all part of the collective group known as Melodic Art-tet during this period. Brackeen was featured soloist on Paul Motian’s 1977 ECM album Dance. This was the result of a trio session which was greatly enhanced with the bass viol of David Izenzon. Motian invited Brackeen to record a second spacier ECM album (Le Voyage) in 1979. This time, he was joined by Jean-Francois Jenny Clark. Brackeen also joined the ensemble that led by William Parker recorded the wild and wooly-free jazz album Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace in 1979. Charles Brackeen performed with Ed Blackwell at Soundscape, 52nd Street in New York City, February 1980. Two of their collaborations were released to the public on 1999’s DIW compilation Live from Soundscape – Hell’s Kitchen. Charles Brackeen’s story continued with him playing his horns alongside Byard Lancaster in Ronald Shannon Jackson’s newly formed Decoding Society. Brackeen was a major contributor to the group’s two first albums, Eye on You (1980), and Nasty (1981). In 1987, Brackeen had his next chance to record when he established a short but fruitful business relationship with Silkheart. Brackeen released three albums under his own name. Brackeen also sat in on Dennis Gonzalez and His New Dallas Sextet, which included additional trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, Douglas Ewart, bassist Malachi Favors, drummer Alvin Fielder, Jr., and reedman Douglas Ewart. The first of Brackeen’s three Silkheart albums, Bannar, was recorded by this group. Attainment, Worshippers Come Nigh, and two other albums were also recorded in one day. They featured Brackeen, Fred Hopkins, cornetist Olu Dara and drummer Andrew Cyrille. It is reasonable to believe that Charles Brackeen’s total recorded output will be small so it will not be unreasonable to hope for a thorough reissuing. This will allow for a respectful and open-minded appraisal of the artist’s entire career. Allmusic

Leave a Comment