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 www.snagglemusic.com.

“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 (electrofi.com) 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 (shawnkellerman.com).

"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 (dennyfreeman.com) 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 (julianfauth.com), and Steve Strongman (stevestrongman.com).  Julian usually plays with Angel for the Friday night show that kicks off the weekend of the Kitchener Blues Festival (kitchenerbluesfestival.com).

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.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Monday Night Jam at the 11th Street Bar

NEW YORK CITY --- There is a terrific jam every Monday night at the 11th Street Bar in the East Village.

When I walked in Dwayne Clemons was blowing trumpet.  It is easy to walk past the place, which is located on the south side of the street between Avenue A and Avenue B at 510 East 11th St. (www.11thstbar.com). It is billed as a classic New York bar and Irish Pub.  The bar stretches along the left side, polished and gleaming, as you walk in. There is a larger room at the back, and that's where the jazz happens. The sand-blasted brick walls, the old wood floors and the music make for a warm, inviting place to enjoy some of the best music the World Capital of Jazz has to offer.

There is no cover.  Drinks are reasonable.  If you get hungry the place makes a great grilled-cheese sandwich, but nothing else.  It is a wonderful and authentic antidote to the corporate jazz clubs in the city that charge big bucks to see one set of music, and require you to buy at least two over priced drinks. The bass player Murray Wall is a regular there for the Monday Night Jam.

At the 11th Street Bar we drank beer for hours, and listened to world-class jazz that featured Murray Wall on bass (http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Wall), Dwayne Clemons (www.smallslive.com/artists/202-dwayne-clemons) on trumpet, Charles Davis on tenor sax, Pasquale Grasso on guitar, John Tank on tenor sax, among many others.  I had been listening to these Cats for years and knew nothing about this Monday night jam until Pasquale mentioned it to me.
 The East Village has lots of great restaurants, so it's easy to get a meal before the jam starts.  One my favourite places in this neighbourhood is Picola Strada at 77 East 4th St.  This owned and operated by a husband and wife team. Bring your own wine and beer.

I have watched Dwayne a lot at Smalls, and love his horn playing.  This gig at the 11th Street Bar is not nearly as crowded as the one at its more famous counterpart in the West Village.  But it is every bit as good.  No pretension. Just good music, cold beer and an attentive audience.

 The Mississippi-born Charles Davis is a legend in New York City jazz circles.  If you are even a casual fan of jazz, you have probably heard Davis and his tenor or baritone saxophone.  In the 1950s he played with Billie Holiday, Ben Webster, Sun Ra, Dinah Washington and Kenny Dorham. In the 1960s Davis played with Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison, Illinois Jacquet, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Griffin, Steve Lacy and Ahmad Jamal. He taught at PS 179 in Brooklyn.  He was also the musical director of a night club called Turntable that was owned by Lloyd Price.
 In the 1970s Davis worked with Clark Terry and Duke Ellington.  He played on the soundtrack for Spike Lee's Mo Better Blues in the 1990s.  And I was sitting a just a few metres away from Davis and his tenor sax.
Davis was part of the Apollo Theatre's Hall of Fame Band along with Ray Charles, Joe Williams  and Nancy Wilson.  Those days are behind the great man, but as soon as he starts playing you know why he was a leading part of that scene.

After a few hours at the 11th Street Bar, I like to head over to 3rd Street for another amazing jam night that I will write about in another post.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Browntasauras Records: As eclectic as the founder, Brownman Ali

KITCHENER, Ont., Feb. 23, 2016 --- Cutting-edge, electric-trumpet icon Brownman Ali uses his own label to catalyze jazz art creation in the Toronto scene.

As if he is not busy enough gigging, touring, arranging and composing for his own seven bands, Brownman Ali has his own record label, Browntasaurus Records and is a partner in the Euphonic Sound recording studio. For background on the man the Village Voice calls Canada's preeminent trumpet player, go to www.brownman.com.

The studio has been a hiphop hotbed in recent yearsOnly fitting for a master-fusion artist like Brown.  He was born in Trinidad, raised in Brampton, studied physics at the University of Waterloo, and then spent 15 years in and out of New York City, studying under Randy Brecker.

The label was initially created as a home for the groups he leads, but in the last year -- at the urging of his New York management -- the label has been expanded so any bands that feature Brownman on trumpet or flugelhorn are now eligible to join.

The record's website is here: www.Browntasauras.Brownman.com.

"My management made a compelling argument to me that recordings that feature me may be just as interesting to fans as recordings that I am a leader on,"  Brown said in a recent interview with New City Notes.

"I play with so many different groups, the idea was:  'Why not offer the resources of my record label to artists that I play with who just are going to put out their records independently anyway?'” Brown said.

“We’re not a conventional label, in that we don’t have anything to offer anyone other than resources and access to my network of connections.  100% of all profits go straight back to the artist themselves, with the label making exactly zero.  We are a real Not-For-Profit, in the truest sense."

When did you ever hear the owner of a record label talk like that?

Browntasauras artists are offered --- lower rates for studio time in Euphonic Sound, which includes an engineer, reduced costs for mixing and mastering with some of the nation’s top engineers, including tone guru Nick Blagona, who has worked with everyone from the Police to Deep Purple to Sinatra to the Brecker Brothers.

Browntasauras artists also get access to Brooklyn-based, world-class publicist and logistics specialist Andrew Nicholson, who also co-runs Browntasauras.  They also get manufacturing via Brown’s direct deal with Sony for CDs, an established Website for online sales, a team to help with online aggregates such as iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

You don’t have to use these resources to be on the label, but the reality is that an artist can make recordings at a significantly reduced cost to themselves if they do.  Which is Brown’s entire point in getting these artists on the label.  To catalyze the creation of their art, at a price they can afford.

The label’s genesis dates back to 2009, during his tenure with legendary rapper Guru (of Gangstarr fame) in his jazz-hip-hop JAZZMATAZZ ensemble (Brown replaced Donald Byrd in the group).  As they toured the world, they watched as big labels and retail sales imploded.  Brown realized this was not the time to be on a major label, and that the paradigm of the music biz was shifting.  This was now the era of the independent artist.

Brown sets up Browntasauras as a label for artists motivated by the need to create jazz art for the sake of art’s creation. Period.  There are no hovering label executives with an agenda, no scrutiny of sales figures, no concern about being part of Popular Culture – just Brown over-seeing each albums creation, and making sure it fits the over-all vision of the label. 

When it comes to album covers, Brown only gives very general directions to the creators.

“I only give the artists the following parameters – ‘Dark, exploratory and just a little bit sci-fi’ – and then leave it to them to choose their own imagery and deal with their art.  The music on the label is reasonably summed up that way as well – dark, exploratory and just a little bit sci-fi!" Brown said.

A quick glance at the last two Brownman Electryc Trio’s cover art presents a clear picture of exactly what Brown describes.  The 2009 “Juggernaut” featured a trumpet playing cyborg on the cover in front of a burning city under seige, and the 2013 release of “Gravitation: A Study In Freefall” continues that narrative with the same cyborg now in a spacesuit, burning through the atmosphere during planet-fall.

Both albums were long-listed for Junos for artwork, the result of an online contest held by Brownman Music Inc.  70 artists from around the world (17 countries in total) competed to be the Brownman Electryc Trio’s cover artist, with Orange County, California’s Dean Shu winning the opportunity to handle the art for "Juggernaut."  He work was so loved by Brown, he was asked back again to handle the art for "Gravitation."
 Brown’s own recordings on the label have won, and continue to win, international class awards --- the Montreal Jazz Fest’s "Grand Prix Du Jazz Award," a CBC Galaxie Rising Star Award, a SOCAN award for composition, two National Jazz Awards, two Toronto Independent Music Awards, an International Independent Music Award, and far too many more to list here.

The paucity of good-paying gigs, rampant theft of recorded music on the Internet, and an anemic global jazz music buying audience have left more and more talented musicians chasing a fast-shrinking piece of the action.  That is the backdrop for transitioning the record label into something more than just another commercial label, or solitary home for Brown’s own projects. This visionary trumpet player wants Browntasauras Records to become a catalyst for creating a community of mutually-supportive artists, all making music on their own terms.

"The idea is that we need to link arms, and help each other out as much as we can.  Climb the ladder together.  Because coming up in Brooklyn, you can't survive without being part of something bigger than yourself," Brownman said.

Brown’s firsthand knowledge comes from his close to 15 years of travel, study and residency in Brooklyn, New York.  He studied under the Grammy-winning jazz trumpet superstar Randy Brecker.

"Man, it's really exciting because what's happening is the various band leaders on Browntasauras are all getting to know each other because they’re now label mates.  They’re coming out to each others' shows.  Guys are guesting on each others gigs.  And some of these guys are a solid 40 years apart in age!" Brownman said. 

"They might never have known of each other without the label to connect them.  I love the idea of label-mates hanging out, sharing and being part of this brotherhood we’re building."

In the last year Browntasauras has signed five new bands --- SNAGGLE, MODUS FACTOR, JOHN CHEESMAN JAZZ ORCHESTRA, ROBERT BALL and JASON WILSON & DIVISION ONE.  All five anticipate CD releases in 2016.  The first will most likely be Nick Maclean’s SNAGGLE.

"Nick Maclean is 24, an Ottawa transplant, a UofT Masters program grad in jazz performance, and one of the hottest young piano players in the Toronto scene right now", Brown said. "He leads and writes for an electric-jazz group called SNAGGLE, which often gets called ‘Canada’s answer to Snarky Puppy."

Maclean -- who confesses the group’s sound is definitely influenced by Brown’s own Electryc Trio – is often on stage next to his mentor these days.   He was the piano player for Brown’s Halloween Thriller, held at the Jazz Room in Waterloo back in October 2015, while more and more of Brown’s own productions seem to feature Maclean.

Their relationship has been growing steadily for 2 years now to the point that Maclean has asked Brown to produce the upcoming SNAGGLE disc.  Working as producer and bandleader, they are putting in long hours to move the now-tracked record through the mixing/mastering stages of recording, and onto manufacturing.

"It’s really interesting, adventurous, take-no-prisoners hard-grooving stuff that Nick writes for Snaggle," Brownman said.  “And working with Nick and the boys has been effortless.  These guys may be in their 20’s, but they are consummate pros, who put the music first and foremost."

Further evidence of their ever deepening musical relationship -- Maclean recently asked Brown to join his newly formed NICK MACLEAN QUARTET, which is the antithesis of Snaggle and reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s primordial 60’s quartet that featured Freddie Hubbard.

You can read more about MacLean and his music here,
www.SnaggleMusic.com, and here    www.NicholasMaclean.com.

Brownman is a also a featured soloist with the JOHN CHEESMAN JAZZ ORCHESTRA, who are regulars in the Monday night Big Band rotation at Toronto’s Rex Hotel.  Brownman calls Cheesman "one of the unsung heroes of the Toronto jazz scene."

“John’s jazz orchestra never really had the kind of profile bands like the Boss Brass, Dave McMurdo Big Band or the John MacLeod Rex Orchestra has," Brownman said.

"He writes really modern sounding super dope shit that grooves.  It’s really not your standard big band fare," Brownman said.

He attributes the band's lack of profile to the eclectic nature of the writing and what he calls John Cheesman's "infinite humility."

“John would never wave his own flag – so me and Bruce are gonna do it for him."

Brownman and Blood, Sweat and Tears alumni Bruce Cassidy are just two of the soloists in the 17-man large Cheesman Orchestra, which is stacked with a who’s who of some of Toronto’s finest including William Carn, Colleen Allen, Andy Ballantyne, Adrean Farrugia, Don Englert, Sandy Barter & Russ Boswell.  Brownman has been with the band for just over three years now, and is the youngest member.

“I grew up idolizing many of these guys and it blows my mind that I get to stand next to them now.  So about a year ago when the nature of my label changed to include bands that I’m featured with, John announced he was intent on recording a CD finally.  I mentioned the label to him, how I was going to do things for artists, how nuts and wrong it was that he didn’t have a disc out yet since the band had been around since the 80’s, and asked if he would be interested in being on the label.  He was immediately."

Unfortunately, this recording project has been sadly delayed as Cheesman recovers from a stroke that saw the drummer/composer air-lifted to London's University Hospital last year.  A near-death experience, which will hopefully end in the joyful release of John’s new disc within the year.

Brownman and Bruce Cassidy together hosted a fundraiser for Cheesman at The Rex last summer to raise funds for John's recovery.  All tracking was completed before John’s stroke – produced by Cassidy -- so it’s now onto mixing and mastering.  Jeremy Darby of Canterbury Studios, Bruce and Brown are all working hard with the recovering Cheesman to get this recording out the door.

“This disc will be a testament to John’s brilliant mind as a composer.  The world needs to hear John’s work.  I think they’ll be staggered by it," Brownman said.

You can read more about Cheesman here, www.JohnCheesman.ca.

MODUS FACTOR is an electric trio with a similar configuration as Brownman’s own Electryc Trio, sporting trumpet, bass and drums.  But make no mistake – this band sounds nothing like B.E.T.  Under the leadership of drummer Chris Lesso, they explore highly improvised groove music with world music flavorings.  Lesso has toured the world with Tony “Wild T” Springer & the Spirit – a Trinidadian blues-rock guitarist who settled in Toronto playing in a Jimi Hendrix tribute band.  Springer was an original member of Rough Trade.  When Rough Trade broke up, he launched his own band with Lesso on drums.

"So Lesso has a great reputation in the rock studio world, but he has the heart of a fusion drummer and chops like Journey’s Steve Smith," Brownman said.

"And he's always wanted to have a project where he could spread his wings in that realm while folding world music elements into the mix.  That’s how Modus Factor came about.  And listen – this trio features Ian De Souza, the astonishing bass player from Kevin Breit’s Sisters Euclid.  That cat is just ridiculous.  One of my favourite bassists anywhere," Brownman said.

Very little is written down.  About 90 per cent of the material is improvised. Brownman, Lesso and De Souza break out all of their vast arsenals of electronic gadgets for these sessions.  Basic melodies are charted on sheet music…

"And then we just cook up a vibe, live, with a whole lot of electronics involved.  There’s a lot of bleeps and bloops on stage," Brownman laughs.  "So it ends up sounding like some kind of world-jazz version of EDM (electronic dance music).  It's almost like EDM improvised by jazz guys on a world music tip."

The tagline for this very interesting band is “electro-ambient improvisational bedlam."  You can read more about it here, www.ChrisLesso.com/modus-factor.

New York-based jazz singer ROBERT BALL has recorded a three-tune EP on Browntasauras so far.  Brownman gushes about Ball, who is in-demand in New York's musical theatre scene.

"He’s just take-your-breath-away amazing.  He’s this tall, gay, black man who sings like, fuck, I don’t know. It's mind-bendingly hard to try and explain him!  He has so much control and texture in his voice.  He’s like a cross between Al Green and Prince!" Brownman said.

"Think old school R&B and soul, but now mix it with a huge range and attitude from deep growl to high falsetto, like Prince does, and then throw in a dash of straight-up theatre and jazz harmony -- and you’ve got Robert Ball.  The dude is deadly" Brownman said.

"The three tunes we recorded are standards, but my own weirdo arrangements of them.  Imagine my writing style supporting a guy like that, using standards as the springboard to try and showcase his gifts.  It’s really, really fun to approach standards this way, as an arranger.  The 3 tunes we tracked are a sultry take on the Miles Davis classic ‘All Blues’, a dirty funkified take on Cole Porter’s ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’, and a haunting version of ‘Nature Boy’.  Robert will make you weep.” 

The EP also features new to Canada from Portugal -- Yamama endorsee drummer Marito Marques, who toured Europe for years with Brazilian legend Ivan Lins before moving to Canada. Check out Ball here, www.RobertBallMusic.com.

Jason Wilson was twice nominated for Reggae Artist of the Year at the Junos and has won a Canadian Reggae Music Award.  WORD magazine said: "You can make a legitimate argument than no Canadian artist has ever done more to innovate within his genre and expand popular perceptions of what his art-form represents than Jason Wilson has for reggae music."

His latest project, DIVISION ONE, is only about four months old.  Brownman describes the music as Marley meets Monk meets Miles.

"He's this white, university-professor-looking dude, and when you see him on stage at a reggae concert, you might have to check yourself.  Do a double-take.  But then he opens his mouth and it's like: 'Jesus Christ there is a black man living in there!" Brown said.

This new group collides roots reggae ala Bob Marley, with Wilson’s piano hero Thelonious Monk, with the always searching ethos of Miles Davis. Marley meets Monk meets Miles.  It should be mentioned that Wilson holds a Ph.D in history, has written four books and was the subject of a special mini-documentary entitled "The Grateful Dread" that appeared on The National with Peter Mansbridge.
Brownman has played with Wilson for close to 20 years and is on all of Wilson's early recordings, first appearing on the 1998 release “Dark Corners."

"But then I got the call to tour with Guru’s Jazzmatazz and that pulled me out of the scene for 4 years as we toured the world.  So when I split, my kid brother had subbed for me as the primary horn.  Jay often used us both, but when it was a single horn gig, it was my chair – until I left for touring.  The funny part is that now that I am back -- my brother ain’t giving it up! So now that’s Marc's gig, and he totally kills it."

Wilson’s two groups are called "The Perrenials" (which features Marcus) and “Division One” (which features Brown) respectively.

Wilson can also been seen commenting on Brown’s abilities in the 2007 BRAVO! Channel documentary on Brownman’s life entitled "The Life And Times Of Brown," which you can watch here:  https://vimeo.com/16725046.

The dynamic siblings Brownman and Marcus will soon release a recording on Browntasauras as the ALI BROS, playing originals penned by both brothers in the style of the illustrious Brecker Brothers.

Together the brothers also appear as the front line in Brownman’s own Latin-jazz groups CRUZAO, CRUZAO GRUPO MONSTRUOSO and MARRON MATIZADO.  All are slotted for release in the next two years.  Brown is also working hard to get recordings out the door from his other Latin-jazz group ARECIBO, his New York based jazz-hip-hop crew GRUVASYLUM & his mainstream hard-swinging jazz unit, the BROWNMAN AKOUSTIC TRIO.

AND he just received a Canada Council for the Arts grant to compose material for the new BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO record.

With so much talent all lined up for one of the most creative, original, exploratory, boundary-busting jazz artists alive today -- look for all this exciting stuff to hit hard on the Browntasauras Records label very very soon.  

For more on Brownman Ali, check out:


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO plays electric Miles.

KITCHENER Ontario, Feb. 10, 2016 --- When Brownman Ali, the trumpet player and award-winning electric jazz sensation, takes to the stage at the Boathouse in downtown Kitchener he will have 20 pedals at this feet.

"The rig has 17 pedals, but I have three new ones, so I might crack 20," Brownman said in an interview with New City Notes.
Brown kicks off the inaugural Kitchener-Waterloo Winter Jazz Festival.  The show is Thursday, Feb. 18 at the Boathouse in Victoria Park. There is no better way to beat the late-winter blues than to see and hear Toronto-based Brownman Ali perform live.

This is not the jazz of your parents and grandparents.   Brown takes the music of the past, and puts his inimitable stamp on it with his electric trumpet.   The BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO has Colin Kingsmore on drums, and Brad Cheeseman on bass. Check out Brown's website, www.brownman.com.

Brown has recorded toured with Jay-Z, Quincy Jones and Paul Simon.  He has twice played to sold-out crowds in The Jazz Room in Waterloo, and is the natural choice for the Winter Jazz Festival opening concert.  This show has a lot of late-career Miles Davis, including Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way. But if someone wants to hear Brown's interpretation of Thriller, he is happy to oblige.

A few weeks ago Brown won the Album of the Year at International Independent Music Awards.  Only the latest in a long list of honours.  The Village Voice calls Brownman Ali this country's per-eminent trumpet player.

About 10 months ago I was first asked about helping to organize a mini-jazz festival for late winter in Kitchener-Waterloo.  I jumped at the chance because I wanted Brown to open this event.

Fans of Hip-Hop, Soul, Funk, Mo-Town and Jazz, love Brown for his modern-electric-jazz arrangements of iconic songs.  People like me, a mid-fifites, white, heterosexual who loves Straight Ahead Jazz, was pulled head first into the musical vortex that is Brown's electric jazz.

Brownman is the leader of seven bands, including four Latin bands.  He arranges for many other groups too. You read about his accomplishments, awards and honours at www.brownman.com or look at his amazing videos on YouTube.

After finishing university Brown went to New York City, getting an apartment in Washington Heights, and later in Brooklyn.  Brown enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music. Later, the legendary trumpet player Randy Brecker took on Brown as a private student. 

"I stalked Brecker," Brown said.  "My time in New York with Brecker was really my formative period.  Transformative."

Brown eventually left the Manhattan School without graduating to focus on his lesson with Brecker.  He practised for hours every day.

"I didn't finish the Manhattan School because I found I was getting more out of my lessons with Brecker than the school," Brown said.  "I think because with Brecker I could just ask any question and he would give me an answer.  And he would give me a very insightful and deep answer that I could go away and work on for weeks."

For five years he lived in New York City and studied under Brecker.  But for years before, and years after that period, he regularly visited New York for for more lessons.  In all, he spent 15 years in and out of the city, but he never gigged there.

He loves to tell the story about his first night in an apartment in Washington Heights, a neighbourhood at the northern end of Manhattan, bordered by 155th Street, the Hudson River and the Harlem River.

"I am bursting with excitement.  Here I am in New York City about to start the great adventure," Brown said.

Brown orders a pizza on his first night in the city, and when the pizza-delivery guy shows up at the door he looks into Brown's apartment and notices the trumpet.   He asks about it, and the two start talking.  Brown invites the pizza-delivery guy into the apartment to try the instrument.

"He picks up my horn, and on my mouthpiece, and just starts murdering.  This dude is fucking-fantastic, one of the best trumpet players I have ever heard.  And he's got range and tone," Brown said.

"And he pops the trumpet off his face and he goes: 'That's a great trumpet,' he walks out the door and I never see him again," Brown said.  "I am in New York City for hour one, and the pizza man has kicked my ass on my own horn.  Welcome to New York.  Every day shit like that would go down."

New York is full of super-crazy-talented musicians, and Brown heard them on sidewalks, subway platforms and inside the clubs.  So he studied under Brecker and practised every day.

"All the shit you hear now, that's from practising eight hours a day," Brown said.  "That's what I did.  I went to Brecker and practised.  And I went to a tonne of shows."

Last October Brown did his Michael Jackson Thriller tribute to a sold-out crowd at The Jazz Room in Waterloo.  That was his second show in the club, but his roots in this region go back more than 30 years.

Brown graduated from a high school in Brampton at 16 with a 97 per cent average.  He went to the University of Waterloo and studied physics.  But music was always his first, second and last love.  Before graduating from UW in 1994, Brown played in several local bands, including Captain Zimbabwe and the Cabinet Shuffle.

"It was all engineers and one lowly physicist," Brown said.  "They were really popular.  We played the Bomb Shelter.  We did a whole bunch of stuff."

Brown also had a band back in those days called Brownman and Enigma, at the beginning of his experiments in electric jazz.

"I played in the Eby Town Brass.  I subbed in the symphony in, like, the third trumpet chair," Brown said.
Brown leads seven bands, and is musical director in many others.  He runs his own record label, Browntasauas label.  He is partner in the recording Euphonic Sound Recording Studio, which is where is award-winning CD Gravitation was made. His home in Toronto's Junction neighbourhood includes a 1,000-square-foot rehearsal space.

"The Junction reminds me so much of Brooklyn," Brownman said. "I spent 15 years in Brooklyn, and when I came to the Junction it was just starting to gentrify, and it took on the same trajectory as Brooklyn."

First a Starbuck's arrived.  Then baby carriages, dudes in skinny jeans sporting full beards, top-knots and sleave tatts.

"Now it's a little hip, it's a little expensive for even us.  We are like: 'Man, I can't believe we are still even here,'" Brown said.  "Because all the artists are getting pushed out because it is too hip now, all the hipsters are coming in."