Monday 30 April 2018

Marking International Day of Jazz With Mike Downes

WATERLOO Ont., (April 30, 2018) --- I can not let the International Day of Jazz go past without a blog post about Mike Downes and his award-winning CD called Root Structure.

Downes is a bassist, composer, recording artist, college instructor and busy-gigging artist out of Toronto.  He is among the most prominent jazz players in the country. 

Root Structure won Jazz Album of the Year: Solo at the Juno Awards recently.  The Junos are Canada's music awards.  What's important here is the CD, not the award. This collection of original music by Downes is about as close to perfect as it gets. Inventive, lyrical, fresh, fun and spontaneous.

Joining the Toronto-based composer on this CD is Robi Botos on piano, Larnell Lewis of Snarky Puppy fame on drums, and Ted Quinlan on guitar.  All are leading artists on the Canadian jazz scene. All of them teach in Humber College's vaunted jazz program.

"Recording with these guys is like a breeze," says Downes.  "So we did a couple takes of everything.  A lot of the stuff is like first take.  So yeah, it's great, we are very happy with it."

The title track is a duet. Downes on bass and Lewis on drums.  Very catchy and funky.

"It's pretty cool," says Downes.

There is a tribute to Miles Davis' electric era called Miles. It features Quinlan's guitar. In all, there are 10 tracks on the CD, all of the material is primarily written by Downes.

It includes a beautiful jazz arrangement of Chopin's Opus 28 No. 20.

"I have many musical influences and I love the music of Chopin," says Downes.  "And I have always wanted to do this piece. It is a prelude in C Minor. It is such a beautiful piece."

Downes had the great pleasure of performing with the legendary American jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny at Koerner Hall in Toronto.  It was a great night that inspired Downes to compose the track called Flow.

"Yeah, it was very good," says Downes of performing with Metheny.  "And Pat is a hero of mine, and this tune is somewhat inspired by his melodicism."

There is a track called Raven that was inspired by an Edgar Allen Poe's famous poem.

"It's actually not that dark a tune," says Downes.  "It is a very dark poem."

Root Structure was recorded in the Humber College studios in two sessions in August 2016. It was not released until the winter of 2017. The range of the compositions, and the unbridled musicality of the quartet will have you listening to this CD over and over.  Steve Bellamy was the engineer.

"He is so good, it was so easy," says Downes.

Downes plays a 160-year-old bass made in France.  Just before taking the quartet into the studio to record Root Structure, the beautiful instrument started buzzing.

"My  bass had a major buzz going on for like a week before," says Downes.  "I kept bringing it in, trying to get it fixed.  And the day before the recording I got it fixed.  It was totally cool. Then the night before we were going to record it started buzzing again, and I was like: 'Oh my God.'"

He ended up putting a belt around the bass for the studio session.

"It's pretty funny, it worked okay.  It was just ridiculous," says Downes.

The buzzing disappeared after Downes bought a second dehumidifier for his house.

"Basses are crazy, yeah, basses are crazy," says Downes.

If you already listen to Downes music, you will love this CD.  He is a creative and vital composer.  His 2014 CD Ripple Effect, which also won a Juno Award, features a beautiful track called Bell Park, which is on the shores of Ramsey Lake in Sudbury. 

After playing the Sudbury Jazz Festival, Downes walked through the beautiful, lake-side park and was inspired to write this gorgeous tune.  That track joins a pantheon of Canadian jazz tunes inspired by the emotional connections of composers to places.  Think Oscar Peterson's Place St. Henri, or Joe Sealey's Inverness.

If you did not know today was the International Day of Jazz, that's cool. Most people don't.   But know it is a thing, so declared by UNESCO.  This year's ambassador for the day is Herbie Hancock. The official celebration is in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Instead of lamenting what you missed in St. Petersburg, tomorrow, you can buy Root Structure to mark the day, and support a great jazz artist.

I learned about International Jazz Day by reading my weekly newsletter from SmallsLIVE/Mezzrow that Spike Wilner writes.  As usual when it comes to all things jazz, Spike nails it.

"I remember being invited to the concert a few years back when the U.N. when this day was first created.  I found it remarkable that the United Nations would do something like this --- to celebrate our music in this way.  And yet, what could be more appropriate for a unifying vision of the world?  I've said it over and over again --- Jazz is the international music for peace. It is a true 'world' music -- open to everyone with ears that can hear it," writes Spike.

"Hopefully the great message of Jazz --- the beauty and joy and feel of this music can permeate the entire world and bring us together like nothing else.  Happy Jazz Day!" says Spike's newsletter.

Sunday 29 April 2018

Nick Maclean Plays Every Show in Blue Note Composer Series

KITCHENER, Ont. (Sunday, April 29,2018) ---- If his first two CDs are any indication, Nick Maclean is bound for an international career as a leading Canadian jazz artist.

But his Kitchener fans will be able to hear the rising star on keys/synth every Sunday in May for the Blue Note Composer Series at Rhapsody Barrel Bar in Downtown Kitchener.  There are four shows, each explores the compositions of great jazz composers who recorded for Blue Note Records -- Joe Henderson (May 6), Wayne Shorter (May 13), Herbie Hancock (May 20) and Freddie Hubbard (May 27).

Maclean adores Hancock's music.  He recorded four famous Hancock tunes of that era -- Cantaloupe Island, Driftin', One Finger Snap and Tell Me a Bedtime Story -- on his second CD, Rites of Ascension, which was released last October.  This 26-year-old piano player made that music his own.

"Generally speaking this CD is very influenced by Herbie Hancock's 1960s quartet.  The quartet with Freddie Hubbard.  It is basically the rhythm section of Miles Davis' second great quintet," says Maclean.

"It is a fantastic group that explores all kinds of interesting Post-Bop Jazz.  So the main records of the time that we were taking ques from would have been Maiden Voyage, and Empyrean Isles," says Maclean.

"So this record in some ways is meant to be driven by that kind of ethos, but broadened to the modern day," says Maclean.

Maclean's played in Kitchener-Waterloo several times before, and has a growing base of fans here.  He played  The Jazz Room last November, a CD launch for Rites of Ascension.  He played the Boathouse last month with his band Snaggle.  Both shows featured Browman Ali on trumpet.  Brown produces Maclean's recordings at Browntasaurus Records, and the two gig together all the time.

"Any situation where I need keyboards, he is my first call, and we have this deep respect and love," says Brown.  "There is a reason I asked him to do all four shows, and there is a reason I am on stage a lot with him these days."

This year Maclean is doing a solo CD for the Brown's non-profit recording label, with Brown producing. So there should be another CD launch show in the area before too long.

Before that, the Blue Note Composer Series runs every Sunday afternoon in May, 3-6 p.m.

I talked to Nick at length about his last CD, which is kind of a tribute to Herbie Hancock's genius.  If you want to know why Brown has Maclean on all the gigs for the series, just listen to Rites of Ascension.  It is a terrific CD.

The spirit behind those famous Hancock tunes infects the rest of the CD, which includes five more originals from Maclean and one from Brown.

Temptations at the Crossroads is Delta-Blues inspired.  This is Maclean's musical version of the story guitarist Tommy Johnson selling his soul to the devil at a midnight meeting on a dark, rural crossroads in Mississippi.

Temptations is a slow blues in three.

"Previous to writing this tune Brown told me he hated playing tunes in three, and he is not super partial to slow blues.  So here I am thinking: 'Hmmm, I should write a slow blues in three, he'll love that."

The next tune is Goldberg Machine.  It is rhythmically complex and asymetrical.  It is in 6/8 time with a five-bar phrase and the baseline never falls on beat one.

"It is meant to simulate a Goldberg Machine, this is a machine invented by the cartoonist Rube Goldberg, actually cartoonist and engineer Rube Goldberg," says Maclean.

The term became synonymous for unnecessarily complicated contraptions that accomplish every-day tasks. Nation's Unrest: A Tribal Conflict.  This was is inspired by devolution of political discourse into camps of yelling fools.

 "This is one of the fastest tunes on the record, it is actually a blues form though it is disguised," says Maclean. "It took the guys a couple of weeks with the tune to realize it was a blues."

A series of panic attacks struck Maclean in recent years, and inspired him to write the next tune on the recording called Feral Serenity.  It is a slow and lyrical ballad with a lot dense harmony.

"The very first time I had a panic attack I had no idea what was going on, I actually thought I was having a heart attack," says Maclean.

That was the first time.

"But the next couple of times it was a very surreal experience, because there is this part of my mind that is able to observe what is going on and calmly say: 'There is nothing going on, it will pass, it will be fine,'" says Maclean.

"So there is part of my mind that knows that, but meanwhile the rest of my body is just completely losing its shit," says Maclean.

The tune takes the perspective of someone watching Maclean endure a panic attack.

Elasticity of Time and Space takes a standard jazz format and inserts Hip-Hop.

"There are a lot of jazz tunes that start off swing in the A&B sections, and then at the bridge they will go for some kind of straight feel, or vice versa," says Maclean.

"I hadn't heard anyone do swing in the A sections and then jump to Hip-Hop at the bridge," said Maclean. "I wanted to see what that sounds like.  So the melody of the tune feels very much like it is coming from a Blue Note record, then at the bridge it dives into this slow, greasy Hip-hop."

Brown wrote the next tune after reading a biography of the Roman Emperor Nero.  The tune charts Nero's descent into madness.

"And it goes to a bunch of different places.  There's some straight Latin(ish)  things, there is a little bit of swing in the bridge, and then it breaks down into an almost Hip-hop kind of vibe before bringing it back to the original melody," says Maclean.

"There is an excellent quote that I found from Christopher Hitchens talking about radical evil in the breakdown that gives us chills when I hear it," says Maclean.

The next tune is called One.  Maclean was inspired by the Herbie Hancock piece Little One from Empyrean Isles.

"So it follows a very similar structure, a rubato melody, followed by a slow swing in a three solo section," says Maclean.  "I really love that."

Maclean mixed in Hancock's voice at one point in the song where he talks about the positive power of music.  The final piece on the CD is called Tell Me a Bedtime Story.

"We close the album with a Herbie Hancock tune just to tie it all back together," says Maclean.  "This tune has a melancholy feel to it, and actually in the liner notes we dedicate it to Brown's cat, Kiwi3, who sadly passed away while we were making this record."
The quartet Maclean assembled for this CD has Brown on trumpet, Jesse Dietschi on bass and Tyler Goertzen on drums.

It is a huge departure from the first CD Maclean recorded with his other group, Snaggle, which released The Long Slog in 2016, also on Browntasaurus Records.

"Snaggle is very much steeped in groovy, electric, fusion jazz," says Maclean.  "So the Nick Maclean Quartet game me the ability to explore the more Capital J Jazz, hard swinging kind of things."

Maclean swings every Sunday afternoon in May at the Rhapsody Barrel Bar in downtown Kitchener.




Tuesday 24 April 2018

Brownman Ali brings Blue Note Composer Series to Kitchener

KITCHENER, Ontario (April 24, 2018) --- A very special jazz series is coming to Downtown Kitchener next month.

Brownman Ali brings his acclaimed Blue Note Composer Series to this city every Sunday in May.  This will be the first time Brown performs the shows outside Toronto.  Every Sunday in May, 3-6 p.m., at the Rhapsody Barrel Bar.

"That is exciting, for me that is exciting," says Brown, who jumped at the chance to bring this series to Kitchener following the success of his five-show tribute to Miles Davis a year ago in this city.

During the Blue Note Composer Series, Brown leads a quartet that explores the compositions of Joe Henderson (May 6), Wayne Shorter (May 13), Herbie Hancock (May 20) and Freddie Hubbard (May 27).   All recorded albums at Blue Note, one of the most famous labels in jazz music.  Henderson, Shorter, Hancock and Hubbard are among the most influential composers in modern jazz.

From 1955 to 1969, they epitomized the straight--ahead sound coming out of New York City.  For many jazz fans this is what jazz sounds like, period. 

"These are the touchstones for any great jazz musician," says Brown.  "These are the historians and technicians that we all grow up around as professional artists, investigating their music from a performance standpoint is something we all do."

Brown incubated the Blue Note Composer Series at the Trane Studio, which operated out of 964 Bathurst St. in Toronto for nine years.  It closed in 2012, but the series lives on.

"I spent a lot of time investigating how these incredible artists were writing, so composition, and that's what led to the series," says Brown.

Leading four different quartets to cover the compositions of four different jazz giants takes some serious chops.  Brown is up to the challenge.  Hailed by the Village Voice in New York City as Canada's preeminent jazz trumpet, Brown is a musical force of nature. He spent years in New York studying under Randy Brecker after graduating with a degree in physics from the University of Waterloo with a 97 per cent average.

(Yeah, I know. The man is a polymath who reads three books a week.  Inspired by a biography of the Roman Emperor Nero, Brown composed a piece called the Madness of Nero that is on Rites of Ascension, the latest CD from the Nick Maclean Quartet.  But I digress).

Brown won a National Jazz Award, and SOCAN Award for composition. He leads six different bands, and the non-profit label Browntasauras Records.  He's toured with Jay Z, Missy Elliot, Paul Simon and the late GURU of Gangstarr and Jazzmatazz fame. Brown was a featured soloist with GURU for four years.

First up in the Blue Note Composer Series is the music of Joe Henderson.  Brown has a tentative set list that starts with "Blue Bossa" from Henderson's first album released on Blue Note called Page One (1963).

"Every artist has to have a primordial record, and for Joe Henderson, for me, it is Page One," says Brown.  "The sound of his tenor and the way he improvises and stretches over these tunes.  He wrote all of these originals for Page One, and to hear him as a saxophone player over these bananas tunes is one of my most poignant experiences growing up."

Born in Trinidad, Brown was raised in Brampton, the music he listened to back then influences his trumpet playing to this day.

"People ask me all the time: 'You play a lot of notes, more than most trumpet players, where does that come from?' It's because I listened to more saxophonists growing up than I did trumpet players," says Brown.

"When Coltrane plays all that stuff nobody blinks, but a trumpet player plays that many notes they are like: 'Holy crap, that's amazing,'" says Brown.

Anyway, back to the set list for the Henderson show --- Out of the Night, Home Stretch, Step Lightly, Recorda Me, Isotope, Black Narcissist, Serenity, Mojo, Momasita, The Kicker, Punjab and Granted.  The show has two sets --- 75 minutes each.  It is a lot of music to cover in that time, so Brown is not promising to play every composition on the list.

Brown believes it is better to have too much music prepared, rather than run out toward the end. You never know, if the fans are on their feet, clapping and yelling for more, it's always better to be ready with a well rehearsed encore.

"Joe wrote the most in a very small period, like 1962 to 1967, so all these tunes are in that period," says Brown.

Joe Henderson was born in 1937 in Lima, Ohio.  Henderson studied tenor saxophone in Detroit, which remains one of the world's great jazz cities, before moving to New York in 1962.  A year later he released his first album on Blue Note called Page One.  That was followed by Our Thing in 1963, In 'N Out in 1964, Inner Urge in 1965, and Mode for Joe in 1966.  He left Blue Note after Mode for Joe.

Joining Brown on stage for all four shows is the talented jazz pianist and composer Nick Maclean.  Kitchener-Waterloo's Tyler Goertzen is on drums. On bass, is Lauren Falls, who spent years playing the scene in New York City, and is now back in Toronto.

The door opens at 2 p.m., the music starts at 3 p.m. and runs to 6 p.m. Mark the date: Sunday, May 6.  It is a matinee show.  After enjoying an afternoon of great jazz, everyone is home by 7 p.m.


Friday 31 March 2017

Brownman Ali and Five Weeks for Miles

KITCHENER ON, April 2017 --- The artist hailed by the Village Voice as Canada's preeminent jazz trumpet player brings his legendary tribute series Five Weeks for Miles to downtown Kitchener.

Every Saturday night in April beginning at 9 p.m. Brownman Ali leads a quintet of first-call jazz cats from Toronto through the music of Miles Davis.  The series is called Five Weeks for Miles. It happens at The Boathouse on Jubilee Drive in Victoria Park in downtown Kitchener.  Each show will cover a different era in Miles' 40-year long career. 

Since it was started eight years ago, this is the first time Brown performs his highly-acclaimed tribute to Miles Davis outside Toronto.  All of the shows at The Boathouse are Plugin Events.  So all of the cover charges are donated to charity.  The artists fees are covered by corporate sponsors.

This first show is 'Young Miles" --- The Bird Years.  This is early Bebop when Miles was playing with Charlie Parker.  For this show Nick Morgan is on alto sax.  Adrean Farrugia piano.  Ross MacIntyre double bass.  Norbert Botos drums.  Like I said, first-call jazz cats. This show ran Saturday April 1. About 58 attended, raising $1,158 for Anselma House.

The second show is "Birth of the Cool" -- Post-Bop Miles.  Features Jeff King on tenor sax, Nick Maclean on piano, Jesse Dietschi on upright bass and Tyler Goertzen on drums.  This show ran Saturday April 8th to a packed house of 120.  Absolute silence in the club when Brown started playing Kind of Blue. Raised $2,300 for Ray of Hope.

The third show is "Plugged Nickel" -- The Shorter Years.  Features Andy Ballantyne on tenor sax, David Restivo on piano, Mike Downes on upright bass and Morgan Childs on drums. This show ran Saturday, April 15th. About 75 people attended, raising $1,400 for Heart Wood Place.

The fourth show is called "From Bitches Brew to Tutu" -- Electric Miles.  Features David Riddel electric guitar, Stu Harrison rhodes & synths, Marc Rogers six string electric bass and Colin Kingsmore drums. This show runs Saturday, April 22nd.

The fifth and final show, "Doo-Bop" -- Had He Lived.  Features Ayrah Taerb rapper, DJ Dopey on turntables, Ian De Souza on six string electric bass, and Colin Kingsmore on drums. This show runs Saturday, April 29th.

These are all Plugin Events.  You can buy tickets here:  Tickets are also available at the door.  If you want a seat, arrive by 8 p.m. During the first three shows, all seats were occupied by 8:30 p.m. All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to a charity in downtown Kitchener.

Brownman Ali is among the most versatile jazz trumpet players in the world today.  He is a force of musical nature.  

Brown graduated with a BSc in physics from the University of Waterloo, and then headed for New York City to study trumpet under the multiple-Grammy-Award winning Randy Brecker.  For 15 years, on and off, Brown was Brecker's student.  And Brown is not finished learning from the great man either.  He soon returns to New York City for advanced studies with Brecker, thanks to a Canada Council grant.

Before that happens though Brown plays his award-winning series Five Weeks for Miles in Kitchener.  This is a rare and beautiful event of the highest order. A live-music series that will be talked about for years.  A cultural marker that audience members will never forget.

Dante Pocnich is a huge fan of live jazz.  The Kitchener resident has attended every show so far, and has been blown away every time.

"My wife and I attend a minimum of 35 live shows a year, and this one would be right up there, the top two or three for the year," said Pocnich after hearing Brownman cover the iconic album Kind of Blue.

Another Kitchener jazz fan, Tim Butcher, has also made it out for every show so far.

"Best jazz experience ever," said Butcher.

The Boathouse was absolutely silent when Brownman stepped up to the microphone with a mute in his horn, and made time stop.  The music from the greatest selling jazz album ever still has the magic to silence a room. Completely.

Miles Davis' music varied greatly from Bebop in the 1940s, modal jazz in the 1950s, the experimental quintets of the 1960s, the fusion of 1969's Bitches Brew, and his late career electric jazz.  This music is so different, and so challenging, only someone like Brown can do it, leading different groups through each phase of the master's music.

When he is not gigging, arranging, composing and recording Brown runs a small record label called BROWNTASAURUS RECORDS.  It is a non-profit.  He and the label are all about getting jazz music recorded and released.  All of the proceeds from CD sales go to the artists.  The label does not take a cut.  Brown is at the top of the call list for music giants, including Jay-z, Missy Elliot, Paul Simon and Quincy Jones, among many others.  He was in the studio recently laying down tracks for Nelly Furtado.  He has played the Boathouse twice before, and the TWH Social last Halloween with his tribute to Michael Jackson's seminal and classic Thriller.

If you are new to Brownman Ali, check out this:

Brownman is a class act.  This series of shows is dedicated to Frank Francis and the memory of one of Toronto's great jazz clubs - The TRANE STUDIO, where the Five Weeks for Miles was birthed, and where it lived for eight years.

"Toronto isn't the same without that joint,"  Brown says.

And Kitchener-Waterloo will never be the same after Brown finishes Five Weeks for Miles at The Boathouse.  It will set a new standard for live jazz in this city.  Who knows, it may become an annual show. 

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Brownman Electryc Trio +1 Does a Halloween Special --- Michael Jackson's Thriller in Downtown Kitchener

KITCHENER Ontario ---- The BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO brings a loud, raucous and danceable celebration of Halloween to downtown Kitchener when it covers the iconic Michael Jackson album Thriller.

Brown's Trio, plus the keyboardist Nick Maclean, plays the TWH Social at 2 King St. West in downtown Kitchener, Saturday, Oct. 29th.  This fabulous venue is in the basement of the historic Walper Hotel where the jazz legend Lois Armstrong stayed in the 1950s.  Back in the day, Pops unpacked his trumpet, walked across the Mezzanine Level, stepped on to the  balcony overlooking King Street and played his horn.

Some people look forward to Christmas.  Others their birthday.  Brown loves Halloween because his award-winning band does its inimitable thing with Thriller.

"It is a fantastic show and we love to do it because those tunes are genius, they are brilliant pop tunes," Brown says during a recent interview with New City Notes.

"Some of the bass line are unbelievable, and they are really ripe for interpretation and leaping off, and using them as source material for something else," Brown says.

The BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO just won the 2016 Toronto Independent Music Award for Jazz Group of the Year.  That makes two years in a row for that honour.  Not surprising really for the musician hailed by the Village Voice in New York City has Canada's best modern trumpet player.  Brown was in-and-out of New York City for 14 years studying under his teacher and mentor, the Grammy Award  winning Randy Brecker.

When Brown sets up on stage he has more than a dozen effects pedals at his feet.  This is modern, electric jazz at its very best.  By covering Thriller, he is following a long tradition among jazz greats who trawl the wide, rivers of popular music for jazz material.

"It's huge fun," Brown says of the show.  "As an improviser you get to be authentic to your craft, but you are still paying homage to your tune.  And those tunes are worth playing, really playing.  We don't screw around too much with the tune.  You will recognize the tune, you will be like: 'I know what that is, that's Beat It, that's Thriller.'"

Brown transcribed and arranged the music years ago.  For five years he only performed this show in Toronto, where he lives.  But last year, for the first time, he took it on the road to the KW Jazz Room in Waterloo, where the house was packed with dancing fans.  So this year, The BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO +1 does the Thriller show in Toronto, Guelph, Kitchener and Hamilton.

The music starts at 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29th in the TWH Social.   Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.  The TWH Social is a fabulous venue in the basement of the historic Walper Hotel.  Come early and have dinner, the executive chef here, Jeff Ward, is among the best chefs in the country.  He jumped at the chance to have The BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO do Thriller in his restaurant-club. Before taking culinary reins at the TWH Social, Jeff was a chef at Canoe in Toronto, opened several of Oliver&Bonacini restaurants around Ontario and Marisol in downtown Kitchener.

Brown's musical background makes him ideally suited for arranging and performing Michael Jackson's music.  Brown was the featured soloist for GURU, and toured with Paul Simon.  He funnels the sounds of funk, hip-hop and pop through his prism of electric jazz.  His band continues to win honours and accolades.  He is a performer, arranger, composer, recording artist, producer and owner of a non-profit recording label that plows all profits right  back to the artists.  The Cat is Miles Davis cool.  My words, not his. You can see and hear for yourself at the Halloween show in the TWH Social.

"We play the whole record," Brown says of the Thriller Show.  "We play the entire record from top to bottom, and turn it into a jazz-funk party."

Brown leads six different bands, a living testament to his creative chops.  The BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO is all about electric jazz.  CRUZAO is a five piece, chordless jazz-funk outfit.  CRUZAO GROUP MONSTRUOSO is a 15 piece Latin jazz urban orchestra.  MARRON MATIZADO is an 11 piece salsa unit.  Brownman & GRUVASYLUM is jazz hip-hop. BROWNMAN ACOUSTIC QUARTET is classic jazz with piano, bass, drums and trumpet.
Brown and his record label, Browntasauras Records are no stranger to Kitchener music fans.  He played the Boathouse recently with Nick Maclean's group Snaggle.   That was a CD release party for Snaggle's latest CD, The Long Slog.  Brown was the producer of that recording, and can be heard on two tracks adding the unmistakable sounds of his trumpet playing.

He also played on At Street Level, the first CD by a sensational tenor sax player and composer Ryan Cassidy.  Kitchener born and raised, this jazz-soul-funk-R&B-hip-hop fusion artist brought Brown into the project because of his reputation for blending genres through his pedals and horn. If we are lucky, Ryan will show up at the TWH Social, and Brown will invite him to play for a while during the Thriller Show.

"People are blown away by the thing because it's Thriller, it's Michael Jackson's music, it's Halloween, it's a dance party and it's like authentic jazz improvisation all folded into the same thing," Brown says.  "Unless you don't like any of those things, it's got something for everybody."

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Snaggle plays the Boathouse in Kitchener Friday night

The sounds of Snarky Puppy mixed with late-career Miles Davis will be heard Friday night at the Boathouse when the Toronto-based jazz-fusion sensation Snaggle takes to the stage.

“We try and create this genre blurring sound taking influences from funk, from R&B, from metal, there is a little bit of classical music in there, and interpret it within a jazz context, in the jazz background and training that all the members have,” bandleader Nick MacLean says in an interview.

The Saturday show is also a CD launch party for the band’s second recording, “The Long Slog,” which was released earlier this month on the Browntasaurus Records.  You can check it out at

“We’ve often been described as Canada’s answer to Snarky Puppy, and sometimes we use the analogy of Electric Era Miles meets Rage Against the Machine,” Maclean says.

This music is a joyous, raucous and danceable.  It is not from the sit-in-your-chair-and-listen school of jazz. Snaggle was formed in MacLean’s’ final year in the highly-regarded jazz program at Humber College. 

The Friday night show at The Boathouse starts at 9 p.m. and runs to midnight.  The cover is $10, or $15 with a CD. 

With the release of The Long Slog just three years after graduating,  MacLean has led the band into new, sonic territory.  With straight-ahead roots, the tracks soon branch and blossom into a 21st Century sound like no other.

“It is absolutely fantastic,” MacLean says.

The Long Slog was produced by Brownman Ali, and recorded on his label in Toronto.  Brownman plays on two tracks.  He will be joining Snaggle for the Friday day night show at the Boathouse.

Opening for Snaggle is Ryan Cassidy, a tenor sax player, composer and recording artist based in Kitchener who released his first CD At Street Level a few months ago.  Brownman also plays on that CD, and will play with Cassidy at the Boathouse show as well.

“For the KW show a local, fantastic saxophone player named Ryan Cassidy and his band are going to be opening for us,” MacLean says.

“He is coming from a similar kind of place jazz influenced by rock, R&B, soul,” MacLean says.  “So that is going to be a lot of fun.”

Brownman was described by the Village Voice as the best modern jazz trumpet player in Canada.  He has played The Jazz Room and the Boathouse before.  With a large array of pedals at his feet, Brownman plays an electric trumpet that fuses everything from hip-hop, RB, straight-ahead jazz, electronica and deejay turntables.

For 15 years Brown was in and out of New York City where he studied jazz trumpet under the Grammy-Award winning Randy Brecker. He founded his Toronto-label to help young musicians bring their new sounds to market, while staying in control of the creative process.

That label and studio are a cauldron of musical creativity, and the fruits will be on stage Friday night at the Boathouse. MacLean met Brown through the Toronto big band Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School.

“I got him to sub in on a Snaggle gig in February 2015 and he really dug the music,” MacLean says.  “And he said: ‘If you guys are making a record I would really like to produce.’ And of course, I jumped at that.”

MacLean loved working with Brownman.

"The man has so much experience in the industry and he's such a phenomenal player," MacLean says.  "We hold a lot of the same values.  So working with him on the project was an incredibly rewarding experience.  I learned a great deal about the process of creating an album.  He really bought out the best version of ourselves during the project."

Snaggle played two gigs during the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival in July.  It hosted the jazz festival jam at The Jazz Room, and played the main stage the next day.  MacLean wants to do the same thing next summer with The Long Slog.

"I really enjoyed writing for this project, I really enjoyed leading it.  The musicians in it are an absolutely a blast to work with.  They are all fantastic players.  Where are we hoping to go next with this album? We are hoping to take it across the country on the festival circuit next summer," MacLean says.


Brown sent a copy of The Long Slog to his old teacher and mentor, the Grammy Award winning Brecker.  Brecker’s thoughts: “Reminds me of a band I used to play in.”

Snaggle is: MacLean on keyboards, Graeme Wallace on tenor sax, Max Forster on Trumpet, Michael Murray on guitar, Doug Moore on bass and Tom Grosset on drums

"The incarnation of Snaggle with Max and Mike has definitely been my favourite one so far," MacLean says.  "The two guys add so much to the project.  Mike, he has an incredible breadth of influences in his playing, there is a lot of metal in there, as well as jazz influences.  And Max has an incredible rhythmic sense to his trumpet playing, so it fits right in."

Friday 18 March 2016

A new Mel Brown CD from the lost tapes of a 1991 show at Pop the Gator

KITCHENER Ont., March 18, 2016 ---- When the late, great soul-funk-jazz-blues fusion guitar master Mel Brown played, everybody listened.

And 25 years ago, when Mel anchored the house band at Pop the Gator on Queen Street South in downtown Kitchener, everybody listened with extra special attention.  That's because the club owner, Glenn Smith, had brought Denny Freeman up from Austin, Texas to play with The Gator's house band --- Mel Brown and the Homewreckers, for three nights in a row.

It happened Feb. 14, 15 and 16 in 1991.  It was magic.  It was transcendent. Two of the shows were recorded and mixed on the fly.  But for 25 years nobody could find the tapes. Then, a box of Mel's unreleased recordings was found in the dusty basement of a Kitchener house on River Road. And Toronto-based ELECTRO-FI Records ( has selected the best tracks and released a new CD called "Over Yonder: Mel Brown Live at Pope the Gator 1991."

So a CD release party and tribute to Mel's music is scheduled for Saturday, March 19, 2016 at the Starlight Lounge and Social Club in Waterloo. The door opens at 7 p.m.  This promises to be one of the best blues shows of the year in Southern Ontario.

"I never thought there would be another Mel Brown release," Andrew Galloway, the head of ELECTRO-FI Records, said.

The first cut on the new CD is called "Shawn's Shuffle."  Mel wrote that instrumental song for Shawn Kellerman, one of several talented musicians who learned everything they could from Mel during jam nights at Pop the Gator, the Red Pepper and the Circus Room.

"When I was going up to jams every Wednesday, and I was like 17 or something like that, Mel would always kind of get me up on this song," Kellerman said.  "He started this melody, and he played it over and over from week to week, and all of a sudden one week he said: 'You know what? It's yours."

Kellerman will not be at the CD release party Saturday  because he is touring in Australia with Lucky Peterson's band.  Kellerman is the music director for Lucky's band.  Mel's musical influence is still heard around the world during Kellerman's blistering solos (

"I loved Denny Freeman and I loved Mel.  It was two totally different guitar players, but I just loved both their styles. One was raunchy and one was jazzy, and they both switched off on piano and organ.  I was in love with both guitar players," Kellerman said.

Denny ( and Mel both played in the house band at Antone's in Austin.  Denny and Mel also played together in Angela Strehli's  band.  Freeman was a mentor to Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Mel played and recorded with a long list of legends, including T-Bone Walker, B.B King, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Hubert Sumlin, Bobby Blue Bland, John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison, Waylon Jennings and Willy Nelson.

In 1989 Glenn Smith travelled to Austin and offered Mel a new job --- Come to Kitchener and anchor the house band at a new blues club called Pop the Gator.  Mel arrived in December 1989, six months after he had married Miss Angel in a ceremony in Clifford Antone's living room in Austin.  Clifford gave Angel away to Mel. Kaz Kazanoff played "Here Comes the Bride" on his tenor sax.  The wedding reception and party were held back at the blues club.

Kitchener blues fans embraced Mel like no other musician.  He remains the musical spirit of the Kitchener Blues Festival, one of the biggest and most successful blues festivals in North America.

In addition to Kellerman, Mel mentored and taught several Kitchener musicians who went o to become the leading  blues artists of their generation, including Julian Fauth (, and Steve Strongman (  Julian usually plays with Angel for the Friday night show that kicks off the weekend of the Kitchener Blues Festival (

Miss Angel has gathered the original members of The Homewreckers for this very special night -- Randall Coryell on drums, Al Richardson on bass, and John Lee on keys. Chris Latta will play guitar.  Chris is the keeper of an old, hollow-bodied Gibson that Mel played for decades.  It is signed by B.B. King.

Also expected at Saturday's show are blues singer Charity Brown, guitarist Rob Daymon, accordian player and singer Sylvia DiDinato and The Divines.

The new CD will bring back memories for many blues fans, but Kellerman needs no help in recalling the three nights of incredible music.

"It is a show I will never forget," Kellerman said.  "I used to talk about that show with everybody.  I would be like: 'Man that was one of the best nights I heard.'  Mel and Denny.  It's like Mel was with one of his old buddies."

Added Kellerman:  "It was like one of the best shows I have ever heard in my life, to this day."

After the shows finished John Lee had possession of the tapes for a few days.  So Kellerman and Lee dubbed the recordings onto some cassettes.  Lee made Kellerman promise he would not tell anyone.  For years Kellerman listened to the cassettes.  Lee also dubbed cassettes for Mel, which disappeared into his box of unreleased recordings for 25 years.

"I have been listening to it forever," Kellerman said.  "Mel was in his prime.  That live show, that was kind of my Holy Grail, something that nobody else had for so many years."

The songs on the new CD are: "Outskirts of Town," "Georgia," "Get Out of My Life Woman," "Blues on the Green," "Shake, Rattle and Roll," "Under Yonder Blues," "I've Got My Mojo Working," and one of Mel's signature songs, "Hey Joe."

During the late 1960s and early 1970s Mel had a recording career with ABC's jazz label, Impulse.  The first release in 1967 was called "Chicken Fat," and he released five more on the Impulse label by 1973.  Mel did not record again as a leader until after he moved to Kitchener, and Andrew Galloway signed him to ELECTRO-FI Records.

Long after The Gator closed in 1994, many of Mel's fans enjoyed the great man at The Boathouse in Victoria Park.

Last year Miss Angel released a new CD called "Down in Mississippi," also on ELECTRO-FI Records.  And Shawn Kellerman played guitar, drums and bass on almost all of the tracks.  That's what Mel and Angel always did when they recorded in their music room at home.  That's how Angel learned to sing the blues.

Angel remembers when her friend Philomena Petch called her about a box of cassettes she had found.  Angel had just moved out of a house on River Road in East Kitchener.  She was headed back to Mississippi for an extended stay.  Philomena went over to the empty house to have one last look around.  She found the box of Mel's unreleased recordings in the basement. Philomena kept the box safe until she and Angel got together again.

"None of the tapes had labels and names and you couldn't tell what they were.  So we decided to listen and label them," Angel said.  "About an hour into that, we came upon this tape.  And I called Andrew and let him hear it while we were listening to it.  And he wanted it, so he came and got it."

That box might have more surprises for blues fans.

"We had a bottle of wine.  Sipping and playing those and labeling them, you know, putting names on 'em so the next time we go into that stack we know what's what.  And we still got another box-and-a-half to go through, all cassettes," Angel said.

And the man who started it all, Glenn Smith, will also be around for the Saturday show.  A couple years back Glenn visited with Buddy Guy behind the Clock Tower Stage in Victoria Park during the Kitchener Blues Festival.  They laughed like old friends. The artists get the headlines, and rightly so, but this is my shout out to a tireless presenter who brought the blues to town --- the incurably social Glenn Smith.

Buddy received The Mel Brown Award that night, and it was about time too.

Buddy is from Louisiana.  Mel was from Mississippi.  Both made their lives playing music steeped in their Deep South backgrounds.  Buddy and Mel played together at Antone's.  Buddy and Mel played together at Pop the Gator.  Buddy and Mel played together on-stage at Centre in the Square in Kitchener during Buddy's show there in 2007.  Many in the audience jumped to their feet, yelling and clapping.  It was the only time Mel ever played on that stage.

When Mel passed in 2009 Buddy was on tour, but he took the time to call Miss Angel, and talk about Mel.  Not everyone did, and Miss Angel was always grateful for that small, but classy act of human solidarity.