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CD Review: Brian Scarborough “Sunflower Song”

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

By Hrayr Attarian

Brian Scarborough Sunflower Song

Brian Scarborough – Trombone

Matt Otto – Tenor saxophone

Adam Schlozman – Guitar

Jeff Harshbarger – Bass

Brian Steever – Drums

Listening to trombonist Brian Scarborough, one is immediately struck by the confident facility with which he improvises and the elegance of his performances. This makes his debut, Sunflower Song, a delightful and captivating album that also showcases his intriguing writing chops and his adroit leadership as he fronts a quintet from Kansas City, his hometown.

The whimsical “City Lights” opens with Scarborough’s crisp, dense notes stating a bare-bones theme over drummer Brian Steever’s resonant and atmospheric percussion. After Scarborough’s loosely swinging solo, saxophonist Matt Otto lets loose a free-flowing extemporization that flirts with dissonance over bassist Jeff Harshbarger’s angular lines. Seamlessly, Otto returns to the mainstream melody and the joyous concluding head.

This type of superb camaraderie marks the entire recording. On the title track, for instance, after Harshbarger’s contemplative intro, the rhythm section builds a wistful and tense backdrop. Scarborough and Otto echo one another while their undulating refrains give the tune a warm and cinematic feel. Out of this duet emerges the leader’s eloquent, spontaneous song filled with lyricism. This poetic sense also permeates both guitarist Adam Scholzman’s erudite and mellifluous turn in the spotlight and the ensemble sound.

Another standout on this uniformly captivating disc is the lithe and suave “This One’s for John.” With a swaggering cadence and soulful refrains, the band constructs a vibrant and charming piece. This serves as a launching point for the horn players who, each at his turn, expand with emotive and crystalline phrases over their bandmates’ percolating vamps. The intelligent embellishment are quite inventive and go far from the core motifs—yet remain within their purview.

Sunflower Song is a remarkably mature and well-balanced work. Scarborough’s alluring compositions are quite intricate, yet they allow room for individual expressions. His democratic leadership allows his sidemen to demonstrate their own talents and synergistic musicianship. Lastly, this is a release that is simultaneously stimulating and accessible, refreshingly modern and rooted in tradition.

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