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March 21st, 2007 Michael Byrne | Music Stories
 

Jefrey Leighton Brown Change Has Got to Come! (Community Library)

Jef Brown's debut steps out of the basement and into the light.

     
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[JAZZ] Jackie-O Motherfucker co-founder and Evolutionary Jass Band frontman Jefrey Leighton Brown spent over a decade in his basement crafting the six songs that make up his debut solo work, Change Has Got To Come! Its seamless polyphony of soul, jazz, indie, R&B and world voices was easily worth the wait. From the propulsive, rolling drum lines of opener "Devotion" to the final, register-shattering soul wail of the title track, Brown's breadth of musical understanding—not to mention his obvious, open-armed love of the craft—is refreshing to say the least.

To say more, Change Has Got To Come! is one of the best records indie Portland has released this year, and among the most unique. As distant as the album is from the rock world, it also flies in the face of the formlessness typical of much of left-field Portland (notably Brown's ex-band, JOMF), rooting its sound in paced, soulful backroom jazz. Change is built with an imposing range of instrumentation—starting with Brown's own humble, expressive and undeniably virtuoso alto-sax work, and extending out to guitar, electric bass, baritone sax, vibraphone, sitar and two vastly different sets of vocals—all pieced into a fluid, democratic construction.

The first two tracks, "Devotion" and "Ain't No Such Thing as What If...," are all about this kind of symbiosis: Brown's fluttering sax and shimmering vibraphone work together perfectly, creating a slippery, relaxed vibe. The record diverges notably with the following cut, "October," an odd, Spanish-hued ballad-cum-aria with simple, paced guitar strums and the devastating vocals of EJB member Daphna Kohn. It's a bit of a dictatorial showpiece for Kohn, but an understandable one: It'd be hard to pair anything with a voice this strong. Democracy returns on the next two tracks, the latter of which, "Floatin' on a Cloud of WHAT?," is one of a very few places where Brown falters (another is the title), drawing out a repetitive, vanilla mix of vibes and wandering sax for over 10 minutes without really going anywhere.

Like everything here, it's still a trip worth taking. Brown's proven unequivocally that he's one of our town's greatest talents, and it's a good thing to finally have him out of the basement. MICHAEL BYRNE.


The Evolutionary Jass Band plays Monday, March 26, with Sea Donkeys at Someday Lounge. 9:30 pm. $6. 21+.
 
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