Jeri Brown – The Tryptych

The Tryptych
Jeri Brown
(Justin Time – 2001)
by John Barrett

Most “concept albums” in jazz stick with simple themes, like songs about the weather, or songs by one artist. This one has a true concept, and a good one: it’s presented as a three-act musical, complete with stage directions, performed by Jeri Brown and a piano trio. (I don’t know if it’s been produced as a play … but I know I’d see it.)

Jeri begins in her lonely room, singing to her “Image in the Mirror”. “Image in the mirror, listen please/ You’re the only one who understands/ You don’t laugh at what I say to you/ You’re a friend when someone needs one.” The background recalls “Peace Piece”, with big chords from Milton Sealey. (He co-wrote the album, and impresses me greatly.) She finds a love through “My Window” (she scats like a flute, in a mood like “Freedom Jazz Dance”) and it seems real on “All at Once”. While the beat grows torrid, Jeri whispers, as her sensuality grows more prominent. It all seems too good to be true, as will be shown…

Act Two is titled Despair, and starts with an anguished bowed bass. Jeri pleads on “My Fragile Heart”, pure and at the top of her range: “I tried to let him know/ How I loved him so/ But desire took my man away; nothing’s left for me except a pool of tears.” Grady Tate seizes the mallets, banging the toms and spreading the sadness. Pitying herself at first (“I’ll Remember Love”), she lashes out at her absent beau – on “Who’s Been Loving You”, in calm sophistication. (Sealey’s part is filled with block chords.) With a deep cabaret voice, Jeri says her piece calmly, and says it firmly – she may be upset, but she’ll be a lady about it.

These lyrics are unusually skillful, of irregular meter while still poetic, in rhyme yet sounding like real dialogue. Act Three finds Jeri still thinking about her man, but now with fondness. “Hardly a day and now I see your face enticing me./ Undoubtedly like rare Chablis of fine outstanding taste.” After all this time, on “A Love with You”, the man finally appears: it’s Grady, with that fine weathered voice of his. “I’d give it all without a care if it insured my savoir faire/ Oh, every time when I’m alone with you.” “I’m in Love Again” sounds like a standard, and might be someday; Sealey is especially warm, and Jeri has her best scat. Her emotions heat up for the waltz “Black Diamond”, and after ten seconds of silence comes another song – a rough take of Sealey singing “Lonesome Child”. Apparently meant as a demo, Milton spins a mean boogie and looks for love. “Why, go around all bothered and confused?/ Come on baby, let me chase away your blues.” For such a sweet album, it seemed an appropriate way to end.