The jazz-electronic-funk-whatsit of Thiefs | Bleader

The jazz-electronic-funk-whatsit of Thiefs


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  • David T. Moss
  • Thiefs
Guillermo E. Brown was introduced to many jazz fans at the tail end of the last century when he replaced Susie Ibarra as the drummer in the mighty quartet led by saxophonist David S. Ware. He ably filled those shoes, appearing on all of its albums from Surrendered (Columbia) in 2000 until the group's swan song, Renunciation (Aum Fidelity), in 2007. But during that time Brown actively demonstrated that there was a lot more to his game that muscular free jazz. Beginning with his 2002 solo album, Soul at the Hands of the Machine (Thirsty Ear), he displayed a sophisticated fluency with electronic rhythms—tapping into hip-hop, hard funk, and more abstract beatscapes—that only referenced his free-jazz connections tangentially, with tart horn lines blown by Daniel Carter and Andre Vida threaded through the dense polyrhythms.

On three more solo albums that followed he refined that abstract electro-rhythmic approach, adding more and more synthetic tones to the mix, but he continued collaborating with more outward-bound improvised-music figures, from George Lewis to Vijay Iyer. In the last couple of years Brown has reappeared in a new guise, using the name Pegasus Warning to explore the outer reaches of R&B, placing his gritty voice at the center of dense, hard-hitting electronic soul where electronic beats derived from hip-hop collide with the sort of homemade old-school soul of Jamie Lidell. Plug Research recently released a five-track ep called Woof Ticket (you can check out the opening track "Acoustiq" below)—and Brown further expanded his reach by touring as the drummer for the uncategorizable South African hip-hop/electronic/rock singer Spoek Mathambo.

More recently Brown has found a pretty strong way to combine all of his multifarious interests in a single project, a trio called Thiefs (the misspelling is intentional); the band also includes bassist Keith Witty, who's played with everyone from Anthony Braxton to Amel Larrieux, and the French reedist Christophe Panzani. Next week the group will release its eponymous debut on Brown's own Melanie Harmonique label, and it's been growing on me. In the loosest sense it reminds me of some of the things Robert Glasper Experiment has been doing, colliding jazz and uncut contemporary R&B, although Thiefs eschew the commercial glint that marked the pianist's 2012 album Black Radio. But Brown sings on a number of pieces, while others feature Panzani's saxophone getting the electronic effect treatment. Some tracks traffic in hard instrumental funk, while others stutter and jab on tightly coiled programmed rhythms. A piece like "Olive Island," which has previously been recorded as a Pegasus Warning track, is more of an abstract soul-pop ballad. The group makes its Chicago debut on Saturday night at Mayne Stage. Below you can check out one of the more jazz-focused tracks, "Doute/s."

Today's playlist:

Bennie Maupin, Slow Traffic to the Right/Moonscapes (Vocalion)
Linda Oh, Initial Here (Greenleaf)
Otis Redding, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (Atco/Rhino)
Zoot Sims, Al Cohn & Phil Woods, Jazz Alive: A Night at the Half Note (Liberty, Japan)
Bob Cooper, Group Activity (Fresh Sound)

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