The electro-funk fusion album Nyeusi (Biophilia) marks drummer Justin Brown’s debut as a bandleader, but he’s no newcomer. The 34-year-old has spent about two decades cultivating his reputation as a first-class jazz musician.
By the time he graduated from high school, Brown was a veteran of both the Grammy Band and the Brubeck Institute. He forsook a free ride to The Juilliard School to tour with saxophonist Kenny Garrett and trombonist Josh Roseman. A few years later, he began working regularly in bands led by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist Gerald Clayton, both childhood friends. He was runner-up in the 2012 Thelonious Monk International Drums Competition, and since 2014 he has been the drummer for genre-busting bassist/vocalist Thundercat.
“It’s his curiosity and his commitment to the craft,” said Akinmusire, explaining why he’s worked with Brown for so long. “Every time we play together, he brings something new.”
What, then, took so long to record the debut?
“I guess my frame of thinking with anything is just patience,” said the bicoastal Brown, speaking by phone from the Bay Area. “I was writing songs here and there, and taking the opportunity to perform as a bandleader in places like [New York’s] Jazz Gallery. But it was something I didn’t want to rush, because I’m still learning throughout the process.”
Nyeusi (Swahili for “black”) includes 11 original compositions written during the past 10 years. Much of the album—featuring Jason Lindner and Fabian Almazan (both on keyboards), Mark Shim (electronic wind controller) and Burniss Earl Travis (bass)—was recorded in 2015. One of the album’s two non-original tracks is a version of Tony Williams’ 1971 tune “Circa 45,” while the influence of hip-hop is obvious on tunes like “Replenish” and “FYFO,” and interludes “Waiting (DUSK)” and “At Peace (DAWN)” skirt the avant-garde.
Just as he exercised patience in completing Nyeusi, Brown is in no particular hurry to follow it up. Instead, he said, his next step will be “becoming a better human. I want to help us come together and help one another, you know? A better human and a better musician: I’m just trying to do my part.” DB