It’s a fairly familiar tale by now: An obscure album sees reissue after decades out of print, and the artist responsible gets to enjoy some overdue recognition. But in the case of Alan Braufman — a saxophonist, flutist, and composer whose 1975 debut, Valley of Search, a potent product of New York’s so-called loft jazz scene of the Seventies, resurfaced in 2018 via a label owned by his nephew — the story has a welcome new twist. Braufman and the pianist Cooper-Moore, a key member of the Valley of Search band, reunited for some gigs when the reissue came out, and now, two years later, they’re appearing together on The Fire Still Burns, Braufman’s first new album in 25 years (out August 28th). The first taste of the record, “Home,” shows that it was worth the wait.
Valley of Search mined a sort of post-post-Coltrane sound, built around catchy, exuberant themes, tempestuous improvisation, and quasi-ritualistic touches (mystical chants, tambourine accents) reminiscent of slightly earlier LPs by Pharoah Sanders. The Fire Still Burns, recorded last fall at the National’s upstate New York studio Long Pond, tightens the focus without sacrificing the unbridled energy of its predecessor. “Home” starts out with an arresting theme, played by Braufman on alto sax and rising star James Brandon Lewis on tenor, as the rhythm section — Cooper-Moore, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Andrew Drury — skillfully builds tension. Then, around the one-minute mark, Drury kicks into an elastic yet driving backbeat that gives the tune a righteous gospel-meets-R&B feel. Roof-raising solos follow from the leader, who’s maintained his blend of poignant melody and fiery urgency, and Lewis, who matches Braufman’s fervor and digs deep into the tune’s solid rhythmic foundation. The theme returns, and the track winds down at a concise six minutes.
Valley of Search, in the spirit of the times, took a sprawling, exploratory approach, but as “Home” shows, the now-69-year-old Braufman’s new music packs more of a concise punch. In 2020, we need the meditative focus and impassioned intensity of an artist like Alan Braufman more than ever, and it’s clear that he and his collaborators have risen to the occasion.
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