NATHAN BROWN TRIO
This Is The Moment
(Gut String Records)

 

Based in NYC, The Nathan Brown Trio released a fine new CD in 2017 called This Is The Moment. Although acoustic bass ace Nathan Brown is the namesake of the trio and he wrote much of the music here, there’s plenty of incredible musical ESP between him and trio mates Félix Lemerle (guitar) and Peter Traunmueller (drums). The music on This Is The Moment establishes Brown as an excellent composer of instrumental jazz, yet he is wise enough to include a range of covers including music written by musical legends like Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil and jazz guitar legend Grant Green. Speaking about the unique sonic chemistry of the trio, Nathan tells mwe3.com, "From the minute I met these guys we became best friends. All three of us have a very biting, sarcastic, almost dark sense of humor. We are always joking around with each other and telling each other things that are hilarious to us, but might be taken the wrong way by others who don’t know us well. This playful openness of communication between us translates to our music. Then we perform, we know each other so well we are able to hold whole conversations together musically, often making each other laugh." Lemerle’s jazz guitar sound on the Grant Green cover of “No. 1 Green Street” nearly steals the show, although with so much new and timeless instrumental jazz music on hand, the real attraction here is the spirited musical interplay between Brown, Lemerle and Traunmueller. Jazz fans will be in for an excellent sonic surprise with this exceptional new CD by The Nathan Brown Trio. www.gutstringrecords.com


 


mwe3.com presents an interview with
NATHAN BROWN


mwe3
: Can you tell us where you’re from originally and where you live now and what you like about it?

Nathan Brown: I’m originally from the Midwest, from Chicago. I moved to New York City almost 5 years ago and am living in Manhattan. What I love about NYC is the music and culture. Sure you can find great musicians elsewhere in the world, however, nowhere else do you find so many of them all in one spot. The bar is set very high for the music scene in NYC.

mwe3: When did you write the music for the Nathan Brown Trio CD This Is The Moment and how did the music come together?

Nathan Brown: All of the original songs on the album were composed since moving here to NYC. The first tune on the album I wrote was “Plaza d’Armas”. This one I finished shortly after moving to the city from a brief stint in New Orleans. This tune is named after the old Spanish name for Jackson Square in the center of the French Quarter in NOLA. “Curly’s Revenge” was written and named after a nickname some of my friends adopted for me - because of my curly hair. “Bird’s Opening” was named after an opening chess move and is a bebop tune in tribute to Charlie Parker or “Bird”. “Don’t Look” was written based on the same harmony as a classic tune Nate “King” Cole sang entitled “You’re Looking At Me”. “The Fourth Way” is named in tribute to esotericists Pyotr Ouspensky and George Gurdjieff who I was reading a lot of at the time. It is based on the same harmonic progression as Tina Brook’s “Open Sesame” and it is my attempt at unlocking the fourth way.

mwe3: What drew you to play classical bass and how did it fit into your jazz studies? What were your earliest musical influences and how did they inspire you to learn bass and what other instruments did you study early on.

Nathan Brown: I started at the age of 5 on cello. It was through a music program called Suzuki. In Suzuki method, they start children as young as possible in music, typically string instruments. I played cello for 10 years. When I was in 5th grade, I wanted to join my school’s wind ensemble, because the wind ensemble was larger than the schools string ensemble and looked like more fun, so I started learning euphonium and then tuba. In middle school, the school offered an extracurricular jazz ensemble program. This was my first introduction to jazz music. I was hooked on it! However, the instructor told me that the cello, the euphonium, and the tuba, are not mainstay instruments within the modern big band jazz ensemble format. That is when I began learning upright bass.

mwe3: How did the Nathan Brown Trio form as a group and what’s the chemistry like between you, Félix Lemerle and Peter Traunmueller?

Nathan Brown: I met Félix and Peter the same way most musician meet in the city, by being on the “scene”. Often musicians move to the city and don’t know many people and have no gigs. In order to meet people and network, musicians go and make their rounds on the music “scene”. They go to the open jam sessions that are held at various clubs across the city every night and to the shows of musicians they enjoy listening to and want to meet. One networks in this fashion and becomes part of the culture.

From the minute I met these guys we became best friends. All three of us have a very biting, sarcastic, almost dark sense of humor. We are always joking around with each other and telling each other things that are hilarious to us, but might be taken the wrong way by others who don’t know us well. This playful openness of communication between us translates to our music. Then we perform, we know each other so well we are able to hold whole conversations together musically, often making each other laugh. Performing with these two musicians really proves how universal and global music is. With all the populist, isolationist, and xenophobic trends in America and across the world today, our friendship is a true testament to globalization and a worldwide community. Félix is from France and Peter is from Austria, but through music we are able to speak a common language and share a common dream!

mwe3: Amid your originals there’s also a couple of covers written by Barry Mann and one written by Leslie Bricusse and lyricist Anthony Newley as well. Even though they have been covered, those composers aren’t well known for jazz artists covering them. Tell us about why you chose to include Nathan Brown trio versions of those tracks. What makes a good cover for your sound?

Nathan Brown: I love playing the jazz “standards” - the repertoire of songs that are true classics. However, for this project I wanted to pick some covers that were more obscure for two reasons. There are so many albums being put out every year with the same covers on them. For example, I didn’t want my album to have a version of “What Is This Thing Called Love” by Cole Porter on it that then has to compete for press, radio play, and sales with the dozen of other albums coming out that possible have the same cover. More importantly though, what makes a cover song a true jazz “standard” is that it becomes popular among performers and audience alike. I picked these covers in an attempt to introduce them to the jazz community. Who knows, maybe my album will start a trend and these covers will become elevated to the realm of the jazz “standard”.

I did have to pick these covers with my trio’s sound and esthetic in mind. Félix is coming out of a Grant Green style sound on the guitar and I wanted to pick covers that fit this. For example, the first version of “Just A Little Lovin’” that I heard was Sarah Vaughan singing it with a big band and a string section on a record called “Feelin’ Good”. This version was one of the first jazz renditions of this pop song. When I heard it, I instantly thought that this sounds like a song that Grant Green would do an instrumental version of with possibly Elvin Jones on drums - the same vibe as Grant’s Street Of Dreams album.

mwe3: When you write music do you think about other instruments with the bass supporting the lead lines? For instance, track nine “The Fourth Way” is a great show case for the guitar leads with the bass and drums driving the sound along. Do you think in terms of other instruments carrying the lead melody with the bass supplying the harmonic rhythm so to speak?

Nathan Brown: When I wrote the original music on this album, I didn’t have a specific instrumentation in mind. I brought most of these songs to countless house sessions and rehearsals over the years with dozens of musicians. I’ve performed them with piano trios, with saxophones, trumpets, and trombones. However, the best sounding setting of these particular tunes in my opinion was with the guitar trio.

Typically, in jazz music, instruments such as horns, or piano and guitar in a trio setting, play the melody and the bass provides accompaniments, such as in the “The Fourth Way”. However, there are some moments on the album where I wanted the bass to shine some and arranged it so the bass was playing the melody, such as the unison melody of “Bird’s Opening” or the bass melody towards the end of “Just A Little Lovin’”.

mwe3: Tell us about your live shows. What is the Nathan Brown Trio like in concert and what are your favorite places to play shows in the NYC area? Have you done shows in other areas of the US and the world yet?

Nathan Brown: My trio has a residency at a jazz club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called Cleopatra’s Needle. We are there every Monday night from 8pm until 1am, and every Wednesday hosting the after-hours show from 11:30pm until 2:30am. This particular band has not yet gone on any tours. However, I am in the process of coordinating a tour in Europe for next year for this band. Both Félix and Peter are from Europe. This tour will be a chance for Félix and Peter to showcase some of their NYC musical endeavors back in their home countries.

mwe3: Tell us about your favorite basses to play live and in the studio. Have you also played electric bass and electric jazz bass and how would you compare the classical bass with the electric and jazz bass? Who makes the best acoustic / stand up basses and what about strings? Do certain strings give your basses a different sound?

Nathan Brown: My main upright bass I’ve owned for almost 15 years. It was originally my teacher and first mentor Rodney Whitaker’s bass and was made custom for him in the early 2000’s by a bass maker in Long Island named Kolstein. I do also perform electric bass. My main electric bass is a NYC made Sadowsky 5-string bass. However, my true passion lies with the upright bass. When I started learning bass in middle school it was upright. My teacher at the time introduced me to electric bass playing after I had already been studying the upright bass for over a year. When I teach bass students from the beginning level, I do the same and start them off learning upright first. The reason behind this is that technique involved in upright bass playing is much more strenuous and advanced than electric bass playing. If one starts by studying upright bass, when it’s time to learn the electric it is a much easier transition.

When it comes to who makes the best upright basses and strings there is no clear answer. Most high quality uprights are hand made and sound, feels, and performs differently from each other. In this respect, the upright bass is really a living entity with a personality of its own. Like people, no two basses are exactly the same. Because of this, no one string maker or brand of string can be said to be the best. One set of strings that sound and feel terrible on one particular bass will end up sounding and feeling amazing on another bass. The key is to get to know your particular bass and figure out how it wants to be set up… what kind of strings sound the best on it, what kind of pickup sounds the best on it, what is the best height of the strings in relation to the fingerboard to make that bass resonate the best. The keys to unlocking a good sound will be different for each bass.

mwe3: How about the title track “This Is The Moment”? Who composed that and what do you like best about that composition? The album credits list Hollander / Robin as the composers. How did you come across that track?

Nathan Brown: I first heard the cover song “This Is The Moment” on a Kenny Dorham album entitled This Is The Moment! Kenny Dorham Sings and Plays. I did some research into it and it originally comes from the soundtrack to a 1947 Betty Grable movie entitled That Lady in Ermine. Félix, Peter, and I had already been playing our weekly shows a Cleopatra’s Needle for over a year when we started performing this one. To make our shows more interesting, the three of us loved to test each other’s knowledge of obscure cover songs. One of us would call some obscure tune on the gig, and if the other didn’t know it they would go and learn it for the next week. One week I called “This Is The Moment” and to my surprise Félix and Peter both knew it. We’ve been playing this song ever since. It became almost a theme song to us. We would perform it as the closer to our shows every week. It got to the point where whenever we played this song unannounced, the regular audience members always knew we were wrapping up the show. This is why we had to include it on our album and why it is the last track.

mwe3: How did you get started with Gut String Records? Does that label specialize in mostly acoustic jazz compared to say jazz-fusion? Do they have a label philosophy?

Nathan Brown: Gut String Records produces mostly acoustic jazz and their philosophy is “Jazz direct from the city of New York”. They are a true made in NYC institution. All artists on the label are New York artists. It was founded by bassist Neal Miner. I would describe Gut String as more of a co-op or collaboration than a traditional record label. Every artist on the label is part owner and a representative of the label and every artist has complete creative and business control of their projects on the label.

Interestingly enough, my journey to Gut Strings Records was kind of round about. I knew of Gut String Records upon moving to the city. Many of my friends have projects on the label. I was considering putting out this project through them, however I was recommended to another label that looked interesting and offered me a pretty good deal. However, there was a dispute over the creative control of the album design. At that point I decided to take my project to Gut String Records knowing I would have complete creative control through them.

mwe3: What other plans do you have for 2017 as far as writing, recording and live performances as well as your ongoing work as a music producer and educator?

Nathan Brown: I’m already brainstorming my next album project that I hope to record 2018. I would like to record a project with this same trio backing up a world-class horn player and or vocalist. The Nathan Brown Trio featuring … I haven’t decided who to have as a feature yet. As I pointed out earlier, there is no shortage of stellar musicians in NYC I could ask to be featured on my next project.



 

 
   
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