Alan Braufman Credit: Gabriela Bhaskar

One of the headiest of all avant-garde jazz heads is Alan Braufman. The veteran saxophonist, flutist, and composer has been wielding his polymathic wizardry since the early 1970s, when he helped put New York City’s loft-jazz movement on the map. But most younger listeners didn’t get their first chance to immerse themselves in his towering, soulful, and freewheeling maelstrom until 2018: that’s when Braufman staged his improbable second act, thanks to a reissue of his out-of-print and hard-to-find 1975 debut, Valley of Search, a crucial document of fire-breathing downtown NYC out jazz. The Brooklyn-born trailblazer was thrust back into the spotlight, embarking on a comeback spearheaded by his nephew and champion, music-industry power player Nabil Ayers. Braufman had been keeping a low profile in his home base of Salt Lake City, Utah, where he’s a prolific leader of jazz groups, but the unearthing of Valley of Search (via Ayers’s independent label of the same name) earned him long-overdue recognition—complete with a triumphant, sold-out 2018 homecoming show at Brooklyn experimental music venue National Sawdust and love from the New York Times and Pitchfork—and afforded him a new creative lease on life. Riding the high of Valley of Search, the 69-year-old Braufman has added another chapter to his feel-good story: the first album of brand-new music under his own name in 45 years. There may not be a better possible title for this record than The Fire Still Burns—from its very first notes, the spiritually uplifting salvos that drive opening track “Sunrise,” Braufman sounds like a volcanic force of nature. His alto sax and flute spew an endless stream of blissed-out melodies and joyously bright lines, which provide a much-needed jolt of positive vibes for these dark times. Like his heroes—John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler—Braufman has a huge sound that collides infectious licks and free-improvisational spurts, epitomized by dizzily catchy tunes such as “Creation” and the title track. But he couldn’t have pulled off this recording without his ace band of New York avant-jazz stalwarts. The rapport Braufman shares with upstart saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, bassist Ken Filiano, drummer Andrew Drury, percussionist Michael Wimberly, and pianist Cooper-Moore (a longtime pal who played on Valley of Search) reaches kindred-spirit levels as the hard-charging group interlock with telepathic prowess on driving rhythms and deep grooves—the music’s ecstatic feel recalls Mingus’s big bands. On The Fire Still Burns, the resurgence of Alan Braufman continues with unabashed exuberance—something we can all use right about now.   v