For his second release "GROOVE WARRIOR" on ESC Records, Guitarist Dean Brown has again put together a stellar group of musicians. Besides his critically aclaimed debut CD "HERE", he is best known for his work with Marcus Miller, Billy Cobham, David Sanborn, The Brecker Bros. and a veritable who's who in the electric jazz world. Dean has spent the last 20 years performing worldwide and has recorded on over 100 albums, including 4 Grammy Award winners.
Groove Warrior :
For his follow-up to 2001's Here, guitarist Dean Brown decided to focus more intently on his musical inspirations from the 1970s. The resulting and aptly-titled Groove Warrior is a slamming affair that owes a debt to the likes of Sly Stone, James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana while showcasing Brown as a singer-songwriter as well as a chopsmeister of the highest order. Backed by a funky crew including keyboardist Bernard Wright, bassists Booker King and Schuyler Deale, drummer Juju House and special guest Marcus Miller, Brown lays down some soulful lead vocals and searing guitar licks in his second recording as a leader for ESC.
"This record had more of a homogeneous concept as opposed to Here, where I was really trying to demonstrate a lot of the styles that I had been accustomed to playing for the past 20 years. But with Groove Warrior, I just wanted to try and make a record that indicated what made me want to play music in the first place and get back to some of that stuff...that early '70s experience and the old school R&B I grew up on."
While fusion fans may well recognize Brown's name from the numerous recordings and tours he's done over the years as a sideman with Billy Cobham, the Brecker Brothers, Vital Information, David Sanborn and Marcus Miller, they may be surprised to hear him singing on Groove Warrior. But as Dean notes, "I was always a singer-guitar player from the time I was a kid all the way up until I started studying more about jazz. And then when I got the gig with Billy Cobham (in 1981) I just kept going in that direction and haven't had a chance to really sing again until now."
Brown demonstrates a particularly soulful quality on the vocals to his originals To Be With You, a masterful piece of pop composing with a few allusions to Middle Eastern music tossed into the mix, and Forever, a Sly-flavored piece augmented by a savvy arrangement for string quartet. His spoken word verse on The Divining Tree, reminiscent of Hendrix's poetic raps on If Six Was Nine and Third Stone From The Sun, leads into one of the album's more ambitious tunes, a kind of semi-autobiographical suite entitled Feed My Jones. As Dean explains, "It's a story about somebody giving up whatever it is that they feel is not doing them any good anymore and then dealing with it. And the middle section, where it sounds like just a bunch of voices all wrapped around your head, is kind of like what happens when you've stopped doing whatever it is that you thought would be bad for you, whether it was drugs or a relationship or food or whatever. And now all of a sudden when you're without that, you can't focus because you don't have that anchor anymore. So finally I just give in and say, 'The hell with it. I'm just gonna do whatever it is, whatever it takes to get through the day, which is not what I actually did in real life, but it just seemed like something that I would like to do."
Elsewhere, the instrumental pieces on Groove Warrior kick with a vengeance, fueled by Juju's big-as-a-house backbeats and Booker's low-end groove and sparked by some scintillating synth work from Wright and some multi-layered, over-the-top guitar playing from Brown. Their chemistry is particularly apparent on the heavy-duty In The Basement (a kind of James Gang-meets-Mandrill mantra), the super-funky Break Song and the country-funk flavored group improv number Piggly Wiggly, which has Dean taking a surprise turn on 4-string banjo. The lyrical Shadows, underscored by Juju's go-go beat, is Dean's personal tribute three giants of the guitar whom he acknowledges as "the masters of melody" - Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and Mike Stern - while Blues on the Blvd. -- Part II is an earthy throwdown spurred workout spurred on by Bernard Wright's velvety Hammond B-3 organ cushion.
Hunter is a meditative groover inspired by an African field recording. As Brown explains, "I was listening to various tribal African recordings and the one that struck me was from a Malinke hunting song. I just used the groove, the bass line...and put it in two different keys, and then tried to treat it the way that Miles Davis treated things in the Kind of Blue record, where everything was kept very simple and he really left it up to the musicians to make the music happen or not. So at the session I gave everybody this chart that had two lines on it - a groove in A and another in B - and that was it. So what you hear is us actually composing the song as it happens. I just played the head and Bernard just reacted to it like we were having a very animated conversation. We really get this weird little rhythm tapestry going and all the while Booker just stays the course and plays the bassline. And what Juju did on that tune is just phenomenal. It's a powerful piece of music, almost kind of mystical for me. We really unleashed something in the studio that day and it all happened in just one take."
Bass great Marcus Miller appears on three pieces - Forever, Break Song and a special remix of Forever. Another special guest on Groove Warrior is vocalist extraordinaire Lalah Hathaway, who makes her presence felt on To Be With You, Forever and Hunter, on which she improvises wordless vocals to suit the African-flavored groove. As Brown explains, "Lalah didn't want to just come in and do the r&b hit on the record. She really want to be like one of the instruments, so that's basically how we treated her. She doubled Barnard's Indian-sounding synth line on To Be With You and she improvised all the way through Hunter, just accompanying the events and responding to what's going on. And I like the idea that she's much more like a musician on the record as opposed to this r&b diva."
While Brown continues to be in-demand as a hired gun (he's currently on tour with the Marcus Miller group), his deepest and most personal musical statements continue to be made as a leader.
Through the '80s and into the '90s, Brown alternated constant touring with sax star David Sanborn, bassist Marcus Miller and the Brecker Brothers. More recently he has toured with saxophonist and ESC labelmate Bill Evans, keyboardist George Duke and two summers ago with Billy Cobham on his 30th anniversary celebration of his landmark fusion album, Spectrum.
2001's Here was his first big step. He takes another giant step in that direction with Groove Warrior.
Author: Bill Milkoswki
The son of a military man from The Bronx and a jazz singer from North Carolina, Dean Brown grew up in a number of locales during his formative years. Born in France, his family moved to the States when he was two then returned to France when he turned 10. Two years later, his family returned to the States once again. It was the summer of love and something new and decidedly different was in the air that would greatly affect Dean's path. As he explains, "Being a child of the '60s, I was naturally attracted to the so-called hippie scene and the music that surrounded it. I mean, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Are You Experienced? are the reasons that I play music today. At least those were the reasons I decided I was going to start playing guitar." Dean would later spend three years in Korea, where he began working professionally at the age of 15 as a singer/guitarist fronting a horn band, garnering a huge following in the process. "I was like a pop star with body guards , a fan club, and everything," Brown recalls with a laugh. "It was wild."
After attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Brown entered the Berklee College of Music and graduated as a composition major. His classmates there included fellow guitarists Mike Stern, Bill Frisell, Kevin Eubanks, and Jamie Glaser. One of Dean's first gigs in Boston was in trumpeter Tiger Okoshi's band Baku. As he recalls, "I replaced Mike Stern in that band in 1979 when Mike left to play with Billy Cobham."
Brown joined Cobham's Glass Menagerie band in 1981 and that year recorded Observations (Elektra/Musician) with the great fusion drummer, marking his first time in the recording studio. In 1982, he played with Glass Menagerie at the Montreux International Jazz Festival. A document of that live gig later appeared the following year as Smokin' (Elektra/Musician). Brown also performed on Cobham's 1985 debut for GRP Records, Warning! He was an original member of Vital Information, the ground breaking group led by the drummer icon, Steve Smith.
Through the '80s and into the '90s, Brown alternated constant touring and recording with sax star David Sanborn, bassist Marcus Miller, Bob James, Kirk Whalum, and the re-united Brecker Brothers. "At one point in the early '90s, it was an amazing juggling act between working with Mike and Randy, Dave and also Marcus' band," he recalls. "It was like non-stop airports. Of course, it was great to be so busy, but it also created this incredible log jam of events."
In recent years, Brown toured and recorded with saxophonist Bill Evans, singer Roberta Flack, keyboardist George Duke, bassist Victor Bailey, and his old mentor Billy Cobham. He has been a regular for the last 12 years with Marcus Miller's band and tours with his own groups. Says Dean, "I hope to concentrate more on my own projects in the future, but I still love playing with all these great musicians as well."