For years, I have referred to Justin Brown as a murderer. He has an adeptness at the drum kit so technically rambunctious, so particularly expressive, that one’s previous thinking about what drums can do dies. This has been the clear case for years in a percussive sense, however, Brown also has this capability as a composer and bandleader, as shown in his debut album, NYEUSI, out now on Biophilia Records.
To use the modern parlance of our day, NYEUSI is a vibe. So much of the album’s songs aren’t discernable melodies but more ethereal grooves that flow in a certain direction. Even the more direct ballad “Waiting on Aubade” has a fuzziness to its phrasing that’s the most there in a sea of kind of there.”FYFO” flys about to and fro, putting the whole jam on the floor pure and simple. This, however, isn’t a knock on songs you can’t specifically hum. That doesn’t seem to be the album’s clear intention. This band is creating an atmosphere for Brown to work. In fact, it’s by the album’s back end, around “Circa 45”, where Brown sounds likely his most Tony Williams-est. That may be the clearest comparison, a creator of the future who knew how to meld sounds together and play with time with less inclination to form. Like Williams, Justin Brown and Co. have created their own fuzzy space, playing less so with formed lines but more with colors, to create that atmosphere to explore feelings.
And what an atmosphere this is! This album is the future, and the future is typically where Jason Lindner, on all manner of synths, lives. Fabian Almazan is also present here on the Fender Rhodes et al. keys. Even Brown himself is playing electric keys and synths on the album. There’s layers on layers on layers here, creating a rich, electric sound. Added to this mix is Mark Shim on wind controller, to add a literal nature to this atmosphere metaphor, and Burniss Earl Travis on bass, fitting along quite nicely in this vibe, providing an anchor, if one can even say that.
Brown named this album NYEUSI, which means black, to discuss his existence as a black man in a dark time. This is a time of uncertainty, of familiar shapes but fewer clear lines. To Brown, there may not be a clear melody to sing through these times like the rest of us, if only something he specifically can hear. But he can certainly convey that feeling, those turbulent rifts and those moments of solace. He can try to convey that atmosphere and in that atmosphere work out diligently on the drums what he’s feeling in the midst of it all. He can do all these things and finally say so as a leader (where he was always filling in space before in the backing bands of so many others who are extraordinary in their own regard) because he has already broken boundaries, for he is a murderer– a murderer of drums, a murderer of forms, a murderer of expectations, and on his debut album, practically a murderer of clear descriptions of everything he and his band is doing. He’s always been like this.
NYEUSI, the debut album from drummer Justin Brown, is out now on Biophilia Records.
Justin Brown | Drums, Fender Rhodes, Synths, Yamaha DX7
Mark Shim | Wind Controller
Jason Lindner | Moog Synth, Prophet, Mopho, Schoenhut Piano
Fabian Almazan | Fender Rhodes, Mopho, Wurlitzer
Burniss Travis | Bass
Brooklyn Recording Studio: June 24 and 25, 2015
Engineer: Andy Taub
Assistant Engineer: Adam Tilzer
Electric Indigo Studios August 15, 2017
Engineer: Jesse Fischer
Assistant Engineer: Morgan Guerin
Mixing: Andy Taub | Tracks 1-8 & 11-13
Mixing: Jess Fischer | Tracks 9-10
Mastering: Colin Girod
Artwork: Roland Nicol
Layout: Aestheticize Media
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.