Butcher Brown ‘Camden Session’ LP/CD/DIG (Gearbox) 4/5

The five-piece Virginia based instrumental group return with this four-track release for Gearbox in London, which is essentially a live set of a non-audience recording which took place at Mark Ronson’s Zelig Studios in central London. The band preserve the same configuration as previous with Marcus Tenney playing saxophone and trumpet, Andrew Randazzo on electric bass, Morgan Burrs on guitar and Corey Fonville on drums, with egalitarian bandleader and producer DJ Harrison playing keyboards.

The album begins with ‘Fiat’, a track that also appeared on their ‘Virginia Noir’ album (2016), but in a shorter form and before Marcus Tenney was a full-time member, so this new version utilises more saxophone rather than guitar for this funky jazz 113 BPM groover. ‘Street Pharmacy’ is a mid tempo head nod affair, with it’s riff heavy wah wah driven Clavinet parts and Marcus Tenney’s supplementary trumpet lines adding to the heavy drum grooves of Corey Fonville.

‘Camden Square’ possesses a more slow jam type quality, and dare I say it, contains elements of smooth jazz in there, but not in a bad way as Butcher Brown are far more hip for that! An obvious ode to London, this piece evolves over its 7’17” duration to reveal sharp but subtle playing from the band but especially from guitarist Morgan Burrs. Possibly my personal favourite of the set. Final track ‘918’ at 118 BPM would be a definite audience crowd pleaser if performed live, with its rhythmic guitar, warm tremolo keys and melodic sax phrases providing space for solo performances to be presented.

An obvious criticism of this release is its short running time being a shade under 30 minutes in total, so is it an EP or LP? This may have been for practical reasons to allow the recording to fit happily on a single vinyl pressing. And additionally and on a more technical aspect, reviewing the lossless WAV files rather than the yet to be released vinyl edition, there is a slight lack of high frequencies within the mix, say from about 2 kHz upwards, and thus, it can seem a touch dull at times compared to other releases of this nature. I’m sure they had high-end equipment and engineers to capture and mix the recording as it was an all analogue setup, but the mix lacked some sonic energy within the top register. This won’t impact negatively on most listener’s experience, but if I noticed it then someone else will too.

Nonetheless, we are huge fans of Butcher Brown and also Gearbox here at UK Vibe, but being greedy, I would have loved their recent other release AfroKuti: A Tribute to Fela, which only appeared in late August 2018 as an exclusive Bandcamp digital only release to be made available on vinyl. Damn.

Damian Wilkes