Sep 17 2013
A tuneful debut album from drummer Barra Brown, whose Songs for a Young Heart proves that he knows how to tie an idea to a strong melody. Mixing in heavy doses of indie-pop influences, Brown and quintet offer up a series of tunes that have the presence of an epic soundtrack and the affecting simplicity of expertly crafted folk songs.
Your album personnel: Barra Brown (drums), Thomas Barber (trumpet), Nicole Glover (tenor sax), Adam Brock (guitar, mandolin), and Jon Lakey (acoustic & electric basses).
The quintet comes out swinging on the opening track “How the West Was Won.” Brown’s punchy rhythms provide a driving cadence, accentuated by melodic development that keeps in touch with the percussion unit. Throughout this album, as he does here, Brock’s guitar does its best work when it shades the lines in between the rhythm and the harmony… when he spreads out notes like droplets of sunlight, it envelops many aspects of the song and brings them all together.
Track two begins with a mournful ballad, but grows into a leviathan of a tune, becoming more intense as it goes along and resembling nothing of its melancholy origins. Glover’s sax has a delicious weariness that just sings with a light heart, creating the kind of emotional contradiction that makes it fascinating to hear.
Third track “Poem” is a lullaby of gentle intonations and the exhalation of a soothing melody. Barber and Glover serve up some beautiful harmonies that possess a hell of an evocative punch. Slow patient notes that have the time to breathe and bloom at just the right moment.
The brief interlude of “Mandolin Song,” a jumping piece that has mandolin synching up with percussion for a brisk run, serves as an interesting transition piece between tracks that hang their hat on the build of tension.
“On This Day” begins with yet another beautiful simple melody right out of the gates. Stated with patience and care. Glover and Barber take turns expressing it on sax and trumpet before expanding upon its theme, guitar shading at the edges, Lakey and Brown keeping it on a leash so it doesn’t fly away into the clouds. Even when the song explodes with a powerful saxophone solo, drums thundering loudly, the melody still pervades every note.
No track may better reflect this album’s mix of jazz and indie-pop than sixth track “King of the North.” A languorous melody that builds right up to a roar, then right back down to calming tones… every statement given with a celebratory tone. It’s a song that goes through the changes several times through, switching up tempos and tones, all the while a foot in jazz and rock territories.
Seventh track “Song for a Young Heart” cements in place this album’s cinematic quality. The song’s melody echoes that of earlier melodies, both in its progression and its delivery, and acts a binding agent of the album’s latter tracks to its opening and establishing a sense of a long road traveled… a quality that any good soundtrack will possess.
This trend continues with the album’s final track, a reprise of fourth track “Poem.” This alternative view of the composition is a cheerful tune expressed with a sunny disposition, lifting the pervasive melancholia of its initial expression.
An impressive debut, and the kind of tuneful album of songs that’s always nice to go back to for more.
Released on the PJCE (Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble) Records label.
Jazz from the Portland, OR scene.
Some additional notes:
Trumpeter Thomas Barber was mentioned on this site a little ways back, when his album Snow Road was covered in the Safety Net review series. Here’s a LINK to read that review. Also, it appears Amazon was the only retail option at that time, but you can grab his album on Bandcamp now and, I’m pretty sure, eMusic, too.
Also, the PJCE label has been putting out some solid albums this year, about one a month. It’s worth your time to check them out.