Terrence Brewer, |
The Calling: Vol. 1-2
(Strong Brew, 2006)
For more than 10 years now, Terrence Brewer and his guitar have been a steady beat in the Bay Area jazz scene. After playing everything from classy restaurants and clubs to charity events and community gatherings, he has finally decided to pull together his friends and resources and record two albums -- as if one would not have been enough. The sound created lies somewhere between a Pat Metheny album and a Stanley Jordan project, with moments of surprising spontaneity and an overall mellow feel.
The first volume of the two is not music to actively listen to. If you're reading in otherwise absolute silence, and you wish to not be distracted by the humming of your lamp or the scratching of branches on your window frame, then throw it on in the background. Or if you own or work in a coffeehouse or restaurant, this album will surely keep your customers mellow and conversant amongst themselves. Though, be fore-warned, you may have to wake up some old-timer every now and again.
Accompanying Brewer on this volume are Ravi Abcarian (of the Oaktown Jazz Workshop) on acoustic bass, Ben Stolorow (of Oba Oba, Mistruda and the Jazz School) on piano, and Micah McClain (of KeHoe Nation and Blackwell) on drums. On the whole album (except one track which I will speak of in a moment) there were only two instances that perked my ears up a bit. If you have a bit of A.D.D. and would find yourself impatient with the slower Metheny-like melodies, then I would recommend skipping ahead to about two minutes and 25 seconds on "The Hands of Man" to hear a sparse catchy refrain. If this is a little more to your liking, then the only other portion of this album you'll really wish to hear would be some nice work by McClain somewhere around three-and-a-half minutes into "Vari-8-Shun." The only piece worth waiting out in its entirety is "Just Like Old Times." The most upbeat song on the album, it's a shame we have to wait so long to hear it (being as it is buried towards the end of the album).
The rest of The Calling: Vol. I is simply drowsy. It's Barnes & Noble shopping music. It's inoffensive and uninteresting. It's basic easy listening music; actually it's too-easy listening. Shouldn't certain musical forms at least dare you to get out of your comfort zone at least a little bit? Especially jazz? This album is without fire, passion or soul. Maybe after multiple listenings the album would reveal more charm, but who has time for that? There are plenty other jazz albums I'd throw on before this one. None of which would include much guitar, though. I've yet to find a jazz guitarist anyway that really speaks to me. Give me some long-winded soul; I prefer some horns and wailing.
If you do, too, then you will find that Brewer definitely has more interesting company on Vol. II. The difference is a major one: Brewer's guitar and drums are here accompanied by Wil Blades (of Mother Bug) on the Hammond B-3 organ and Eric Drake (of Space Invaders) on the tenor sax, as opposed to the more sedate acoustic bass and piano from Vol. I. Also, Derrek Phillips of the Charlie Hunter Trio sits in on drums instead of McClain. Although there is only one piece of brass (and only on a few tracks), I still think it's obvious which one promises more fun. And this promise is stated within the first few moments of its opening track, "Lately." Even in its more mellow tunes (such as "Chrystal Clarity"), this disc still offers more interesting perks and hooks. This second volume is full with much more up-beat grooves.
Now, on Amazon.com you can read what Brewer said himself about these two albums. What's interesting there is that he'll relay all of the technical information about what went into these compositions: the 7/4, 6/4 and 4/4 meters, the"altered minor chord" progressions, the tonal centers, etc. What any of it actually has to do with how I hear it, I'm not sure. Well, if I know what I'm listening for, I'll enjoy it that much more -- which, I suppose, is to say if you are an accomplished jazz aficionado (or if you've taken some college course to study it), you may be able to appreciate the subtleties (and they are subtle!) on this album. If, however, you are a casual listener or novice explorer of the jazz scene, you may simply feel like one group of musicians is having a lot of fun, whereas the other group has probably just dropped some tranquilizers.
Why Brewer even bothered to record two albums is beyond me. According to the bio link on his website, maybe it has something to do with his "aggressive marketing and business acumen." Though, in this case, the word "aggressive" leads me to think of something approaching hubris. I really don't see why one solid 70-minute album couldn't have been squeezed out of these 17 tracks. The good news is that these two volumes are available separately, which means you may not want to waste any money on the first one. Instead, take that $15 check you got from your grandmother's best friend and splurge a little and pick up The Calling: Vol. II. If you are feeling very generous, maybe pick up Vol. I as a thank-you present.
by Kevin Shlosberg