Butcher Brown ‘Live at Vagabond’ LP/CD (Gearbox) 4/5

This five-piece funk, jazz and hip hop influenced outfit based in Richmond, Virginia consists of Marcus Tenney (tenor sax/horns), Morgan Burrs (guitar), Corey Fonville (drums), Andrew Randazzo (bass) and DJ Harrison as the in-house producer and engineer who also plays keyboards. This six-track set of a recording made at a small local venue in Richmond in July 2017 comes after a series of numerous Bandcamp and privately released studio based albums, of which I think there are four – with this being their first live album. The recording is of good quality, with microphone placement and strong engineering knowledge evident here, and I even enjoyed that you could at times hear the audience (or was it the band members?) respond to specific moments during the set. And musically, they are all very accomplished players and individually have had vast experience working with other artists and musicians, both local and nationally.

Track one, ‘Tomahawk’, which also appeared on their long player ‘The Healer’ from summer 2017, possesses a jazz-rock quality (more late) and maybe would have been better suited towards the middle of the set due to this, but this was followed by the more funky ‘Cairo’ with its obvious Headhunters era Herbie Hancock influence possibly being a better opener. The studio version of ‘Cairo’ was first presented on their 2014 album ‘All Purpose Music’, with track three ‘Moses’ again first appearing on ‘The Healer’, but this is a more head nod affair, with Marcus Tenney’s trumpet parts and solo working well over the groovy 6/8 time signature rhythm section, but this was definitely created to be Marcus’ centrepiece.

‘Forest 2.0’ is a more communal affair but does feature an engaging bass solo from Andrew Randazzo that although isn’t explosive, does interact well with the other players and possesses a more melodic quality. ‘Lysol’ is the funkiest piece of the set with its heavy drum pattern, cool Clavinet licks and effective trumpet from the halfway point. And finally, ‘Tunnelvision’ which is unmistakably influenced by Herbie’s ‘Butterfly’ from his 1974 ‘Thrust’ album, is a perfect ending and is the most dynamic track of the recording, although, it feels quite short for a finale and seems to fade out at the end.

On a side note, some readers may recognise the name DJ Harrison (aka Devonne Harris) who additionally has a separate career as a producer and artist; having prior releases on Street Corner Music and Stones Throw – including many on cassette! Harrison is known to favour the tape for recording duties also, as much of his solo work and Butcher Brown’s albums are tracked to 2” tape in his living room, which also functions as a working recording studio for his musical exploits. But his input provides a sense of modernity to the group as well as a retro aesthetic, and it’s this that gives the group an edge over many other gigging funk/jazz-based groups.

And being honest, the term ‘jazz-rock’ does send shivers down my spine and the guitar solos (with distortion) presented on ‘Tomahawk’, ‘Lysol’ and ‘Cairo’ can edge more into the direction of ‘rock’ rather than ‘jazz’ for my tastes. But this is a live album and the recording was designed to capture the live experience on the night and this isn’t so apparent on the studio albums. But listeners of Will Sessions from Detroit, BADBADNOTGOOD and the early Robert Glasper projects will love the group, and although some of the studio albums are more funky and hip hop centred, this may be a solid introduction to this possible future supergroup.

Damian Wilkes