Dean Brown, Bernard Wright, Marcus Miller, Juju House, Michael Patches Stewart and more....
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
Dean Brown: Guitars, Vocals, Bass, Banjo, Djembe
Lalah Hathaway: Vocals
Bernard Wright: Keyboards, Synth Bass
Marcus Miller: Bass
Schuyler Deale: Basses, Tamborine
Booker King: Bass
JuJu House: Drums, Percussion
Poogie Bell: Drums
Roger Byam: Tenor Saxophones
Michael "Patches" Stewart: Trumpets
Michael Davis: Trombone, Bass Trombone
Bernard Soto: Congas, Bongos
Steve Adelson: Emmet Chapman Stock
Peter Habbe: Loop Creation
Filip Jaslar: Violion
Michal Sikorski: Violion
Pawel Kowaluk: Viola
Bolek Blaszczyk: Cello
Emmet Chapman Stick: Violin
2. To Be With You(LISTEN TO AUDIO)
3. Piggly Wiggly(LISTEN TO AUDIO)
4. Forever(LISTEN TO AUDIO)
5. The Divining Tree(LISTEN TO AUDIO)
6. Feed My Jones(LISTEN TO AUDIO)
7. In The Basement(LISTEN TO AUDIO)
8. Intermission: Emergency Funk Radio
9. Pandora's Box
10. Break Song
13. Blues On The Blvd.-Part II