After wowing fans in Grand Rapids, the impressive quintet marking the Blue Note jazz label’s 85th anniversary and featuring Interlochen alum Matt Brewer on bass heats up northern Michigan on Valentine’s Day.
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That’s according to both Blue Note President Don Was and bassist Matt Brewer. “They’re gonna do it differently every single night. You’ll see guys on a high wire without a net, trying to find new roads into the songs, taking the music in a new direction,” Was proclaims in a promotional video about the group.
Brewer, who anchors the quintet, says the members’ abilities and far-reaching experience and familiarity with one another enable them to sense and react to what everyone else is doing.
“It feels different every night, but very comfortable. We have so much trust in the other musicians,” says Brewer, an Interlochen Center for the Arts alumnus whose parents are jazz musicians Paul Brewer and Robin Connell of Grand Rapids.
Assembled to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the venerable jazz label, the band features drummer Kendrick Scott, vibraphonist Joel Ross, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and pianist and musical director Gerald Clayton, along with Brewer. The tour kicked off in Grand Rapids on Jan. 18 at St. Cecilia Music Center and has crisscrossed the country ever since.
Founded in 1939 when German-Jewish immigrant and jazz fan Alfred Lion produced his first recording session in New York City, the label has subsequently presented the music in all its forms and iterations, from hot jazz and swing through bebop, soul jazz, avant-garde and fusion. It has long been considered one of the hallmark labels of the genre,
Following its purchase by industry giant EMI in 1979, Blue Note was phased out and remained dormant until 1984 when it was relaunched under Bruce Lundvall. Grammy- and Emmy-winning producer, performer and radio host Was succeeded him in 2012.
The all-star tours started in 2008 when the Blue Note Seven celebrated the label’s 70th anniversary. This group is following suit, performing 35 shows across the country. Brewer says the band also recently spent two days in the studio for its own release.
BUILDING A SET THAT FLOWS AND ONE THAT’S DIFFERENT EVERY NIGHT
While some might expect the band to perform music associated with the label’s iconic forebears, like Sonny Rollins, Bud Powell, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and others, that’s not the case.
“We’re not revisiting (that music). We’re taking the example of the people that made those records,” Brewer says. “We all bring in original music. We honor them in that way.”
While the band members all knew one another and had played with them in other settings, they’d never played together as a group before. Yet everything was seamless, “even from the first rehearsal. We breezed through about 20 tunes in a couple hours,” Brewer notes.
Not that there will be that many tunes at The Alluvion’s sold-out show at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Brewer says there are typically between seven and 10 songs played each night, with the soloists stretching them out to nine or 10 minutes apiece. “It’s not crazy, but there’s a spot in the set for everybody.”Even though Clayton is listed as the musical director, Brewer says the band feels like a collective, with each member sharing input into the show and the songs they perform. “We try building a set that flows,” he says, while also taking into account tunes they haven’t played recently.
While many touring rock musicians play the same set every night, jazz musicians typically mix things up more. Even the same song sounds different from night to night as the performers react to one another and the audience. “What they’re playing tells you what to play. It’s different for me every night,” he says.
Brewer’s first interest was drums, then sax, before discovering bass at the age of 10 at Interlochen Arts camp, where his trombonist father, Paul, was an instructor. Paul went on to teach at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids and is a member of the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra. He and his wife, Robin Connell, Matt’s stepmother, have become award-winning mainstays of the jazz community locally.
Matt subsequently went to high school and graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy. He says that was a great environment for him.
“Being around other people your age practicing inspires you. You push each other,” he says. He went on to study at Juilliard before leaving school to work with the likes of Greg Osby, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Lee Konitz, Terence Blanchard, Antonio Sanchez and others.
He’s happy to be among a group he considers both friends and outstanding musicians. “They’re all heavyweights,” he says of his musical compatriots.
Was concurs. “Despite their incredible technical knowledge and proficiency, they play from the heart first,” he says in the video. “You’ll be moved, you’ll be touched, and you’ll come out better than when you went in.”
VIDEO: The Blue Note Quintet in Milwaukee (1/28/24)
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