Grammy award winning trumpet virtuoso/super-producer Maurice "Mobetta" Brown enters 2012 with a wealth of projects, recording dates and concert appearances that will keep his fans abuzz with anticipation.
Later this year, Maurice will release the follow-up to his critically acclaimed sophomore release, "The Cycle of Love" (Brown Records). This project will again feature his dynamic quintet, the Maurice Brown Effect, who recorded the Cycle of Love, one of 2010's cutting edge jazz recordings. When Maurice picks up his horn, his trademark soulful melodies soar into a rarefied space that uniquely marries traditional be-bop to hip-hop, producing a sound where neither genre is watered down.
In the two years since Cycle of Love hit the music world with full force, Maurice has balanced a tightly packed schedule of live appearances with in-depth studio recordings. 2011 saw the touring debut of the rock blues chart toppers, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band after the release of their debut album Revelator (Sony Masterworks), which recently won a 2012 Grammy. Maurice is the horn arranger for the 11-piece band. The year long tour spanned more than 100 cities in the United States, twenty-five countries in Europe, Asia, and South America as well as late-night national appearances on Conan O'Brien and the Tonight show. Maurice has also been hard at work on a remix album of "The Cycle of Love", titled "Maurice vs. Mobetta" (Brown Records, to be released in this summer). This dynamic album features some of today's top producers & artist who partner with Maurice on a groundbreaking, track by track remix that solidifies him as one of the trailblazers who weds jazz to hip-hop. Additionally, Maurice produced "Self Savior", the last track on Talib Kweli's latest release "Gutter Rainbows" and is working with the legendary Prodigy (of Mobb Deep). In April, Maurice will begin a 6-week European tour with the pre-eminent bassist, Marcus Miller, before hitting the road with both Tedeschi-Trucks and his own groups, the Maurice Brown Effect and Mobetta & Soul'd U Out.
Eight years after his highly celebrated debut album "HIP TO BOP" hit the jazz world with a staggering, original sound, Brown continues to explore and expand all musical boundaries. His intuitive musical vision lights a fire under traditional jazz, adds sonic horn playing to rock n' roll and pushes the production edge in hip-hop & r&b to new creative heights.
On the verge of 29, the Chicago-bred trumpeter Maurice Brown – performing this evening through Sunday at the Jazz Showcase – is on top of the world. (You don’t have take my word for it; he’s an inveterate Facebook poster and Twitterer, and he’s happy to fill you in on everything from how rehearsals are going to his mama’s homemade pancakes.)
A budding star by the time he entered college, Brown moved to New Orleans a year or two before Katrina hit – just enough time to establish a wide following in the Crescent City, even as he was incorporating the city’s unique flavors into his potent mix of basic jazz, Chicago blues, and universal funk. He eventually landed in New York, where his flashy tone and instant command of a dozen idioms have made him a studio-session favorite.
Meanwhile, he’s working on a springtime release for The Cycle Of Love, the follow-up to his successful 2004 independent release Hip To Bop. For nearly 20 years, the lure of finding common ground between hip-hop and jazz – which throughout its history has famously absorbed and transformed new beats and whole genres – has beguiled younger musicians. But other than the clever catch-phrase “From bebop to hip-hop” and a handful of exceptions (most notably the mid-90s success of the Digable Planets), the quest has come up empty – until now. No one is better suited than Brown to pull off this fusion. Instead of trying to bring jazz to hip-hop, he reverses course; as the title of Hip To Bop suggests, he brings his hip-hop experience to bear upon his jazz roots. The song “It’s A New Day” was the first result, and also the reason that his second release is among the more eagerly awaited projects of 2010. (Listen to the song “Time Tick Tock” from that upcoming album here.)
Brown will get to a few tunes from Cycle Of Love this weekend, but mostly he’ll stick to standards and even holiday fare with a quartet that comprises Chicagoans Lorin Cohen (bass) and Isaiah Thomas (drums), and another former Windy Citizen, the protean keyboardist Sam Barsh, who also infuses the spirit of hip-hop into his substantial jazz training. And Brown has also sent an APB to several other top local players to join him in a “pro (Christmas) jam” at the Showcase.
And you were afraid you wouldn’t get what you wanted for the holiday. Maurice Brown took time to answer a few questions from your Chicago Jazz Examiner.
A main difference is that with my touring band, we do mostly originals, while here I’ll be playing more standards. But my style stays the same for both; the environment changes, but my whole approach is to be lyrical and melodic whether it’s swing or playing over a groove. I’m always looking for that melodic statement.
That’s the way Miles Davis worked. You could argue that he was playing the same solos from the 50s through the 80s, although the backgrounds changed dramatically.
Miles is a big inspiration for me during this journey, especially how he was able to adapt, to always be very current and fresh with what was going on. My whole thing is – people are big on hip-hop. And for jazz, it’s not just hip-hop but rhythm-and-blues, and blues itself, they’re so much a part of our culture now. I feel that if Miles or Bird [Charlie Parker] were here today, they’d be doing the same kind of thing that I’m doing.
What a remarkable composer Maurice Brown is becoming.
His debut CD of 2004, “Hip to Bop,” hinted at his potential, thanks to tracks such as the buoyant “It’s a New Day” and the technically daunting “Rapture.” But Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase, where the former Chicagoan is making his debut as headliner, Brown played music never heard here before. The scores will be on the trumpeter’s still-to-be-recorded CD, “The Cycle of Love,” and they show a significant maturation of his art.
Judging by the music Brown’s band—the Maurice Brown Effect—played during its first set, the trumpeter has refined his compositional methods. Before, he seemed to pack as much musical content and technical bravura as possible into every bar; now he’s allowing his phrases to breathe.
Brown—who grew up in Harvey—always has shown a knack for penning insinuating melodic hooks. Not surprisingly, then, the tunes from “The Cycle of Love” linger in memory.
Yet these are not simple pop ditties. Each of Brown’s themes from “The Cycle of Love” bristles with unexpected turns of phrase, pungent harmonic choices and other idiosyncrasies of rhythm and melodic line. The years Brown, 28, spent studying with the Louisiana musician Alvin Batiste clearly laid the groundwork for Brown’s development as composer-arranger.
In midtempo pieces, Brown unfurled puckish motifs driven by constant syncopation and other forms of rhythmic tension. In ballads, he reaffirmed his gifts as melodist without stooping to sentimentality.
Much of Brown’s work this night was articulated not so much as solo fare but as duets with saxophonist Derek Douget, backed by a propulsive rhythm section. The two horns gave these scores more heft and eloquence than either could have produced alone.
Still, one yearned to hear more solo prowess from Brown than he offered. Even in “Rapture,” a near-classic among Brown’s compositions, the trumpeter leaned heavily on Douget.
Perhaps it’s not just Brown’s composing style
Four years ago, a promising young trumpeter from Harvey, Ill., moved to New Orleans to sharpen his skills outside the pressures of Chicago's rigorously competitive jazz scene.
Over the weekend, 24-year-old Maurice Brown came home, and, within a few choruses of "I Hear a Rhapsody," made it clear he isn't a jazz prodigy anymore. Though still clearly in the nascent stages of what could be a major career, Brown has emerged as one of the most dynamic trumpet soloists of the under-30 generation -- in New Orleans, Chicago, New York or anywhere else.
Leading his quintet at the Green Mill Jazz Club, Brown brought an array of talents that rarely intersect in the same young musician. Blessed with as much instrumental technique as improvisational imagination, as much jazz erudition as appetite for innovation, he does not fit neatly into anyone's profile of how a rising jazz soloist sounds. He offers the enthusiasm of youth alongside the achievements of more seasoned musicians. Add to this an outsized personality that radiates optimism, and it's no wonder Brown had a standing-room-only audience cheering before he ended his first solo.
And though one hastens to add that Brown -- like anyone his age -- still has a long way to go in realizing his considerable potential, he's off to the fastest start since New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton ascended in the 1990s.
Listeners who attended Brown's first set Friday night at the Green Mill heard a musician who not only couldn't wait to stand before the microphone but also had a great deal to say once he arrived there. Though youthful virtuosos tend to play hard and fast -- trying early on to establish their credentials -- Brown was in no hurry in "I Hear a Rhapsody." Indeed, the medium tempo that Brown chose, as well as his emphasis on gently swinging eighth notes and even slower time values, suggested that he has absorbed a great deal in New Orleans, where Louis Armstrong and Joe "King" Oliver first started to forge the vocabulary of the jazz trumpet and cornet.
Brown has learned a lot about the depth of sound that every note in a great trumpet solo can convey, and he has mastered uniquely lilting Southern tempos and rhythms. But Brown adds to this deeply lyric impulse the urge to experiment and reinvent, characteristics ingrained in the music of the city whose music first shaped him -- Chicago. When Brown tore into one of his most challenging and satisfying compositions, "Rapture," there was no mistaking the aggressive rhythms, earthy swing, technical bravura and go-for-broke experimentation of Chicago jazz, in all its thundering glory.
The big surprise in this set came when Brown picked up his flugelhorn to play the venerable ballad "Misty." The poise and expressive beauty of Brown's phrases -- which nimbly danced around the original melody line without explicitly stating it -- showed how much Brown has matured since he was a teenager sitting in on South Side jam sessions.Back then, Brown quickly became one of the more talked-about young talents in a city bursting with them. Today -- as his Green Mill engagement and his exceptional debut CD, "Hip to Bop," show -- he's way ahead of the pack.
In a way, the trumpeter Maurice Brown exemplifies the state of young jazz musicians: he's trying to draw a continuous line between the music's old, fractured territories. Now 24, originally from Chicago and living in New Orleans, he has pushed toward a new, clipped version of R&B and funk; he has played free music, too, with mentors in Chicago like Fred Anderson and Ernest Dawkins. But his deepest interest is jazz's high-art mainstream, and he puts juice into it.
At the Jazz Standard on Tuesday, the first night of a two-night engagement, Mr. Brown played with some members of his Louisiana working band - the terrific tenor saxophonist Derek Douget, who hasn't been heard much in New York, and the pianist Anthony Wonsey - as well as a couple of New Yorkers, the bassist Peter Washington and the drummer Billy Drummond. The music had stylistic boundaries; a set consisting of one standard ("Alone Together") and a few of Mr. Brown's own tunes resurveyed the sound of jazz in the mid-1960's, the breakthroughs of Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard.
This is old, well-tilled soil, but that didn't matter much. Mr. Brown is a pretty complete player, soloing coherently through all of his instrument's range, especially the darker, lower notes. (He played the warmer-sounding flugelhorn on a ballad, "Lovely," and did that well, too.) And there was a nice tension of competing agendas, between the strict, tensile grooves of the rhythm section and Mr. Douget's wandering, exploratory solos, hung together with bending long tones and non-narrative immediacy.
The connection between a pianist and a horn-playing leader is crucial in small groups, and Mr. Wonsey bore out that truth, attaching himself to Mr. Brown's lines and offsetting them with hard, rhythmic accompaniment. And Mr. Drummond was especially impressive for not being a regular part of this group. He just explored the trap set for an hour, continually shifting his focus, working on the edges of the cymbals for a while and then the meat of them, altering his combinations between drums, then aligning in swing with Mr. Wonsey and Mr. Washington. The whole performance brought up some of the mysterious properties of that mid-60's music: the players used their discipline to make the tunes keep turning themselves inside out.
When he was living in Chicago, Maurice Brown would take his trumpet to the New Apartment Lounge on the South Side almost every Tuesday night to sit in with Von Freeman at the saxophonist’s jam sessions.
Now that Brown, 24, is living in New Orleans, his Tuesdays are spent at Snug Harbor, the top straightahead jazz club in the city. And he’s not sitting in on anyone else’s session. Rather, he leads his quintet, and word has spread throughout the city that this is one of the top jazz shows to catch.
“It’s packed in there every week,” says Brown, who leads a quintet with saxophonist Derek Douget, pianist Doug Bickel or Anthony Wonsey, bassist Jason Stewart, and drummer Adonis Rose or Troy Davis. “And we’re getting a younger generation to come out. There’s a great vibe there.”
Brown is one of the most exciting young trumpeters in jazz--be it New Orleans or New York. His improvisations are fresh, his chops dynamic and he’s writing what could very well become a new generation of hard-bop-meets-new-grooves standards. And given that he’s only played the horn for about 10 years, his potential to grow in the music is staggering.
Brown first picked up the trumpet in high school in south suburban Chicago. Two years later, when he was 16, Brown played at a seminar led by Wynton Marsalis and made Marsalis’ ears perk up. He started playing regularly around Chicago, picking up influences ranging from Freddie Hubbard and Benny Bailey to Lester Bowie and Don Cherry. Shortly after he started studying music at Northern Illinois University, he got a call from Clark Terry--on recommendation from Marsalis--to perform with him aboard the QE2. While around Terry, Brown picked up plenty of musical wisdom.
“He told me to always stay true to the melody. No matter how crazy the music may be, stay true to the melody,” Brown says, and then adds, laughing “he also told me, ‘Be careful not to get too hip. You know what you get when you get too hip.’”
The dreadlocked trumpeter sure isn’t lacking in the hipness quotient. After all, how many jazz artists sell women’s panties with the title of their album (Hip to Bop), on their website? But that’s not to say that the album is all about gimmicks. Brown’s self-produced debut, out on his own Brown Records, is filled with original compositions that give his simpatico bandmates a platform for impressive improvisation. “We worked this band before we went into the studio, “ Brown says. “It’s the opposite of how a lot of bands work today.”
Studying with Alvin Batiste at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., gave him a lot of the foundation that makes this album swing. It also put him down South, and the growing scene in New orleans lured him. The band on Hip to Bop is the same group with which he plays weekly at Snug Harbor, a gig he got when he filled in for drummer Jason Marsalis’ group one week. That week led to a month, and now he’s become a fixture.
In addition to his quintet, he leads the funk/acid jazz band Soul’d U Out, which has been increasingly active in New Orleans. “That’s my baby,” Brown says, “it’s r&b, hip-hop, jazz and fusion. I’m constantly writing for this, and working on an album. It’s all original music, and I’m writing all the words, all the hooks.”
Talking from New Orleans toward the end of February, as the mercury was in a free-fall in Chicago, does he miss Chicago at all? He starts laughing. Sure he misses playing with the likes of Freeman, Fred Anderson, and Ernest Dawkins, but, “The weather!” he says. “The weather, food, and people here are real nice. Plus, this city supports what you do. You’d be surprised at how many great artists are here in New Orleans.”
In the early 20th century New Orleans jazz musicians traveled up the Mississippi River to Chicago. The talented 24-year-old Windy City trumpeter Maurice Brown has made the reverse migration to the Crescent City, where he's emerged as a phenom. His debut CD aurally illustrates his burgeoning, diamond-in-the-rough trumpet style, influenced by masters like Fats Navarro, and Wynton Marsalis, the man who discovered him. Backed by a quicksilver New Orleans combo featuring Los Hombres Calientes percussionist Bill Summers, Brown's material is modern, neo-classic, and surprisingly accessible. The melodically complex opener "Rapture," swings like Miles Davis's classic 1960s combos and "Mi Amor" is a mature ballad, while "It's a New Day" bops with funky backbeats that echo Donald Byrd's finest flights from the 1970s. Like Roy Hargrove and Russell Gunn before him, Maurice Brown keeps it real, and reels in new listeners with his tradition in transition approach.
With Hip to Bop (Brown), the New Orleans-based 24-year-old Maurice Brown articulates a sound that's closer to Russell Gunn's acoustic work for HighNote. But the title track, a modern funk blues colored by Wurlitzer piano and wah-wah trumpet, complicates that assessment. So does the catchy soul-jazz of "It's a New Day," with guest percussionist (and "hombre caliente") Bill Summers. Brown's sidemen-Derek Douget on tenor sax, Doug Bickel on piano and keys, Jason Stewart on bass and Adonis Rose on drums-offer sturdy support and exceptional solos on this gratifying all-original set, which includes such idiosyncratic themes as "Conceptions" and "Look Ma No Hands" (the latter derived from Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap"). Brown harks back to Wynton Marsalis' aggressive "Knozz-Moe-King" days with the pregnant pauses and cued tempo changes of the opening "Rapture," but his more lyrical side emerges on "Mi Amor" and "A Call for All Angels."
From King Oliver to Louis Armstrong, Fats Navarro to Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis to Freddie Hubbard, Roy Hargrove to Nicholas Payton, it seems that all great jazz trumpeters, regardless of generation or stylistic inclination, are drawn to the funk. Each of those aforementioned artists – and there are many more – have steered jazz significantly by incorporating those sweaty, syncopated rhythms, edgy riffs and blues-based melodies we call funk.
You can now add Maurice Brown to that illustrious list of jazz trumpeters. His debut disc, Hip to Bop sublimely integrates the intricate improvisational burn of bebop with the pulsating rhythms of hip hop and R&B.
In concert, Brown’s scintillating trumpet prowess has been turning heads and seducing accolades from such masters as Wynton Marsalis, Curtis Fuller and Clark Terry. BET Jazz talked with Brown about his debut CD and about his woodshed period in Chicago and New Orleans.
In one of the most startling debuts of the year, 23-year-old trumpeter Brown -- a Chicagoan now based in New Orleans -- announced himself as a triple-threat artist, equally effective as virtuoso trumpeter, versatile composer and supremely confident bandleader. That a musician of Brown's young vintage could conceive a work as harmonically bold and structurally intricate as "Rapture," the recording's explosive opening track, suggests that this talent runs deep. So does "It's a New Day," with its unforgettably catchy main riff; "Mi Amor," a ballad of remarkable melodic beauty and poise; and the hard-charging, bebop-inspired "Look Ma No Hands."
At just 23 years old, Maurice Brown has quickly made a name for himself in Chicago, New Orleans and beyond. Growing up in Chicago, Brown began playing the trumpet and started to take music seriously when Wynton Marsalis singled him out at an eighth grade workshop. Wynton told him he had 'it' and he should "never stop playing." Brown, in turn, started practicing as much as possible - up to 16 hours a day! In his teenage years, he won NARAS' all state high school talent competition, which resulted in a performance with the National Grammy Band. Brown later went on to Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA to study with clarinetist Alvin Batiste.
A move to New Orleans allowed Brown to progress to the next level. In addition to gigs as a sideman working with Ramsey Lewis, Ellis Marsalis and Jeff "Tain" Watts, Brown leads a quintet, which recently released an inspired danceable modern jazz album called Hip to Bop. He also heads a hip-hop/funk band called Soul'd U Out. Every Tuesday, Brown's quintet plays at New Orleans premiere jazz club Snug Harbor, which is no small feat considering that the only names that appear weekly at the club are Marsalis and Neville. Last year, Brown received an ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award and was selected to perform his winning piece at the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame reception ceremony.
Maurice Brown recently spoke with Playback about bop, the Big Easy and writing music.