Jazz has always been a sweetheart to me — like that one dashing and intellectually deep person that you cannot help but admire. It swings, stops, accelerates and does everything imaginable under the sun. Honestly, jazz is one of the greatest musical innovations of the 20th century, for it not only affected how musicians composed music afterwards, but also affected a whole social culture which has permeated throughout time, all the way to today.
For the newest edition of Fridays at Five, the Richmond area’s Butcher Brown Band played for a solid hour and a half in front an intrigued and flattered audience. I can say this because their music was their own modern interpretation of classical jazz. The band included Devonne Harris (a.k.a. DJ Harrison) playing multiple keyboards, Andrew Randazzo on bass, Keith Askey playing guitar and Corey Fonville on drums.
The music flaunted an attractive funk and swinging jazz feel throughout the performance as it progressed from section to section. In addition, the band displayed a virtuosity in their instruments not usually seen today through their numerous bright solos. They substituted the classic “big band” instruments of the ’20s with these modern instruments, but, impressively, gave off the same feel.
In the 12 songs they performed, the blend of the rolling percussion with synthesizer and the bass line was heaven to my ears — the songs lasted for almost seven minutes. It’s impressive to captivate an audience for that long. Specifically, each song had its own uniqueness that approached “modern” jazz in a new light. For example, their song “Run From the Fuzz” had a significant amount of blues influence as the music was more aggressive and “in-your-face,” while their next song, “Two,” was slower and more swing-esque.
While the majority of the music was instrumental, the vocalism, when displayed, was on point. In the song “I Got to Go to Work,” the lyricism by Harris was very loose in its pitch orientation and melodic progression. Interestingly, there was significantly less “filler” from the accompanying instruments while he sung, so this was meant to exacerbate his singing style in relation to their performance. On the other hand, Harris would sometimes hum during a couple songs with a dream-like distortion on his voice to harmonize with the instrumental progression — because, heck, why not!
After the show, I was able to talk to Harris and Randazzo about their influences and their past. They said that they play in several other bands, so they consider this one a hybrid because, according to Harris, “We put everything in a pot, and just stirred it up.” Both Harris and Randazzo said they have been influenced by artists like Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Mac Demarco, Michael Jackson, Roy Ayers, Herbie Hancock, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. So, they do indeed have a diverse approach to music from a genre standpoint.
With all of this in mind, this “jazz-jam” band found a terrific hybrid between new and old in its musical expression. It’s the sweet spot between an artistic representation of where jazz has progressed and a realistic, entertaining approach to music of yesteryears past.