After 20 years as a working sideman with some of the most prominent names on the contemporary jazz scene, guitarist Dean Brown has finally realized his first recording as a leader. Many of those same funk-fusion icons who employed Brown through various phases of his career -- drummer Billy Cobham, the Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Bill Evans, Marcus Miller and George Duke -- have gathered to return the favor by appearing on HERE , the guitarists hard-hitting debut for ESC Records.
Aside from representing the different bandleaders that he has worked with over the years, HERE also showcases the range of Brown's own musical tastes. Touches of P-Funk, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix mingle nicely with Afro-Cuban grooves and unadulterated swinging jazz on this ambitious undertaking. "I didnt want to arbitrarily just have an all-star cast on this album," says the in-demand guitarist. "But there were certain people that I felt had strongly influenced my direction so I wanted to include them as sort of conduit for my writing. And everybody was so incredibly supportive about it. They all were extremely happy that I finally had made a record of my own."
With the exception of one tune, a slamming remake of The Beatles "Baby, You're A Rich Man", all the material on HERE was composed by Brown. And rather than using the occasion to showcase his own chops, Dean followed the Duke Ellington modus operandi of writing tunes with specific players in mind. "Back In The Day", for instance, is a fitting vehicle for both Marcus Miller's signature slap bass prowess and Sanborn's instantly recognizable alto sax wail.
"Gemini", which shifts from tasty acoustic guitar work to soaring electric lines by Brown, was written specifically to highlight Marcus Miller's remarkably fluid and agile fretless bass work. As the composer explains, "Marcus is a Gemini. I kind of wrote this tune for and about him. So for me it was a thing of, Marcus, if you cant play on this tune then I'm not doing the tune. There's not much point to it if Marcus is not playing it, and he kind of proves that."
Brown took the same approach in writing tunes to Billy Cobham's strength. "There's a couple of things that I wrote very specifically for Billy," he says. "And to me, they're very obvious. I just wanted to tap into the things I love about the way Billy plays. And he sure came through like a champ." Cobham, the first to elevate Brown's profile to an international level, is well represented on the slow-grooving vocal number "Tell It (Like It Is)", which is based on the drummers early 70's fusion classic, "Stratus". Says the guitarist, "I actually did a tour with Billy last summer which precipitated me asking him to play on my record. I've played with Billy over the years off and on. Its not been a regular thing but we just seem to want to play with each other every once in a while, so I appreciate those opportunities. Because he was one of the first guys to give me a gig." Elsewhere, Cobham erupts for a sizzling solo on a jazzy quartet number called "The Clave Groove", which has Dean playing fleet-fingered, warm-toned lines on a fat-bodied jazz box in the tradition of George Benson. Cobham reprises his inimitable backbeat groove on a brief but ultra-funky "Billy Groove Interlude" and dazzles on a dramatic reading of "The Battles Over (For Jaco)", Browns epic homage to the late, great bassist-composer, Jaco Pastorius.
Keyboardist-composer George Duke, another Brown employer, appears on the smooth jazz offering "Believe Me". "Big Foot is direct homage to Hendrix, alluding specifically to Jimi's cool organ quartet shuffle "Rainy Day Dream Away" from Electric Ladyland . And Dean's remake of the Beatles "Baby, You're A Rich Man" puts a funky spin on that quintessentially psychedelic pop offering. "There is something about that tune that is so cool", he says, "and I always thought it could be made real funky. I did enjoy that period of the Beatles where they were more into that Indian thing and more experimental...all the backwards stuff and the sitars. And there was something about this particular tune that just stuck with me. In fact, it was one of the tunes that I used to cover in the band I had as a kid, so I always dug it."
"Solid is an aptly-named, hard-edged Afro-Cuban groover which features some brilliant layered percussion work by Don Alias and a heroic tenor sax solo by Michael Brecker, and "Just For Kicks" is an urgent showcase for brother Randys stellar trumpet work. Dean's debut opens on an upbeat, turbo-charged note with "Take This!", an ultra-funky throwdown sparked by Brown's slick rhythm guitar work behind Randy Breckers trumpet solo, Ricky Petersons Hammond B-3 organ work and Richard Patterson's virtuosic electric bass slapping.
And the collection closes on a dramatic note with Brown's opus, "The Battles Over (For Jaco)". The composer details the genesis of passionate and depthful suite: "Its a very important and personal piece for me. And it came together over a long period of time. I was playing with Bob James in Florida at the time of Jaco's death (in September of 1987). I went to his funeral in Fort Lauderdale. And it's funny...I think that all of us were kind of half-expecting him to jump out of the casket and go...AAAAAAAAH! GOTCHA! But he never did, which was a drag. But Wayne Shorter was there and Joe Zawinul was there. They were pallbearers. Obviously, this was a solemn and important occasion. And as we were leaving the church, this melody came to me. At first I thought it might've been written before but I couldnt quite put my finger on it. And then later on, as much as six months or a year later, I completed the piece. The whole thing tells the story of Jaco's kind of meteroic rise and his unfortunate fall. And hopefully at the end of the tune it doesnt sound depressing but instead sounds like there's some hope there. Its a powerful song and whenever we play it I tell people, This isn't a song that's evocative of something that Jaco would write, its just how I feel about it."
by Bill Milkowski