Past or present, composer Donald Brown is ahead of the pack

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"Fast Forward to the Past," Donald Brown (Space Time)

Donald Brown is like a great painter. Give him his choice of every color you could possibly put on the palette and he knows exactly which ones will mix into the color he wants. Give him five, 5,000 or only one - regardless, he'll create something remarkable. In the past few years, Brown has released terrific albums of solo piano and a disc in collaboration with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. Brown's new disc "Fast Forward to the Past" finds the artist with a full jazz ensemble - Bill Mobley on trumpet and flugelhorn, Steve Nelson on vibraphone, saxophonists Danny Walsh and Jean Toussaint, guitarists Lionel Loueke and Mark Boling, bassists Robert Hurst and Essiet Essiet, and drummers Eric Harland and (Donald's son) Kenny Brown, on various tracks.

Throughout the album, the musicians help Brown construct adventurous and surprising numbers. Brown's trademark hues are all here - dissonance that quickly turns into beauty, a distinctive take on melody and harmony, and some amazing keyboard chops.

On the terrific track "Carter Country" Brown, at times, seems to be playing piano with two brains - one for his left hand and another for his right. While the two are progressing the piece, they almost seem like two different personalities.

In fact, Brown's sometimes split personality is one of the characteristics that gives his music such an edge. While Brown is squarely in the jazz realm, he's never afraid to incorporate funk or gospel elements. His style is based on the blues, but his use of it is sophisticated.

"Fast Forward to the Past" includes three tracks by other composers (including "Skain's Domain" by Brown's former Jazz Messenger bandmate Wynton Marsalis), which provide a nice contrast to Brown's own creations, but the tracks that keep you coming back are the new Brown originals.

"Haymaker!," The Gourds (Yep Roc)

In the past few years, Austin eccentrics the Gourds found a comfortable spot. Revered for their musical chops, irreverent humor and surprising songwriting, these days the Gourds' music is so catchy that it's nearly embarrassing. Did all this start when the band adapted Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" into an underground Americana classic?

The group's new disc "Haymaker!," like 2007's "Noble Creatures," is full of hooks delivered by way of accordions, electric guitars, banjos. The disc contains bits of Tex-Mex and classic country and '60s garage rock. If you only listen to the to top level it's musical candy, but the band makes sure that the songs hold up to deeper scrutiny. The band knows how to mix the ingredients so well that every now and then you wish the group would dip into the unpredictable scruffiness of its earliest days. However, that consideration comes only after 45 minutes of tapping your feet and bobbing your head.

Wayne Bledsoe may be reached at 865-342-6444 or He is also the alternating host of "All Over the Road" midnight Saturdays to 4 a.m. Sundays on WDVX-FM.

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