Earlier this month, “3 Brave Souls” held an album release event at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, CA. The theatre is just one of many ongoing performances held by the Jazz Bakery as they await construction of their Frank Gehry designed new home next door. John Beasley has been a familiar presence in the new year, with a residency at the Blue Whale encompassing big band, latin and more intimate motifs. The “3 Brave Souls” performance is a fitting cap to a busy season with this special collaboration of Beasley with Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones and Ronald Bruner, Jr. on drums (as well as vocalists Dwight Trible and Nayanna Holley). I had not been that familiar with Beasley’s career until this project, but the opportunity to catch two former Miles band mates in Beasley and Jones, with drummer Bruner, Jr. (who has been playing since he was 3, seriously), was too good to pass up. The “3 Brave Souls” project has been described as “ass-wiggling funk/jazz” and made the cut of top 2012 jazz CDs by Jazz Inside magazine. Me, I was just curious to see how resumes that spread from Suicidal Tendencies, Flying Lotus and Kenny Garrett (Bruner, Jr.), to Miles, Steely Dan, Freddie Hubbard and James Brown (Beasley) to the Stones, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Madonna and Miles (Jones), would fare in head to head funk driven jazz. No doubt, these three can play absolutely anything (and at the highest level), so the prospect of them cutting loose with a set of sticky-sharp grooves sounded pretty appealing.
The Douglas seats about 300 in stadium style seating and there’s not a bad seat in the house. It is a worthy sanctuary on the road to the Bakery’s permanent location. As Beasley took a seat behind two layers of electric keys, a piano and a MacBook Pro, the 3 fell in behind Jones’ bubbling bass line for “Back Friday” (which also opens the album). Beasley swirled around the rhythm section landing on the groove for a round or two then departing again mixing synth sounds with electric piano. It didn’t take long for the unit to build to a nice froth, than pull back for Jones to dance with Bruner, Jr.’s snare and Beasley’s flourishes. Tasty, tasty, tasty. Apropos of the group’s lineage, the 3 covered Miles’ “Decoy”, (which from the same titled 1984 album, on which Jones appeared) building from a snare rim/Jones pulse into a throbbing platform for Beasley to explore. This was vintage ‘70s-‘80s infused stuff and I was struck how perfectly absent a guitar was to this sound. Much of the set included the vocals of Dwight Trible and Nayanna Holley, with both singers digging into the pure funk of “Wanna Get Away” from “3 Brave Souls”. Holley found just the right reach with the bluesy “Nothing Left to Say” (from “3 Brave Souls’) and Trible and band worked up “Backlash Blues (from 2011’s “Dwight Trible Sings, John Beasley Swings”). Jones even busted out the vocals for his tune, “Stay” (from “3 Brave Souls”). In the back half of the set, the singers left the stage, Beasley moved to the piano and the trio took flight, leaving the funk behind. Propelled by Ronald Bruner, Jr., the trio was dizzying in intensity and simply flying under Beasley’s piano. The set closed with Bob Marley’s “Exodus”, which swelled beautifully in the hands of these Souls. Trible’s vocals were stirring as he alternated Marley’s chorus with a quiet refrain of “3 Brave Souls”.
Bruner, Jr. (who filled the spot of Leon “Ndugu” Chancler from the record) has been playing for most of his 30 years on the planet and it shows (check him out with the late Austin Peralta on McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” from 2006, off the charts stuff). He’s now set to tour with Prince and will be back in LA with Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke in April. After having just caught Billy Cobham and his monster kit that he played down in size, Bruner, Jr. was the counterpoint. A model of simplicity (1 rail/1 floor and a minimum of hardware) he played big, and that kit sang all night long. Wow is both worthy and insufficient.
This performance was jazz with a personal feel. Superb music played by superb musicians in a superb setting. Definitely a buzz from the crowd as the lights went up. Hats off to Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery for making this show happen.
You can catch more of John Beasley with his 17-piece MONK’estra big band at Typhoon on March 11th. John Beasley will also be directing the International Jazz Day concert hosted by Herbie Hancock and the Monk Institute in Istanbul, Turkey on April 30th, with over 30 global all-star jazz musicians participating.