Irish drummer and bandleader Kevin Brady has reinvented his acoustic trio as an electric quartet for a new album on Ubuntu Music, Plan B – with Seamus Blake, Dave Redmond and Bill Carrothers. Feature by John Bungey:
“There was no fruit thrown at us,” says Kevin Brady with a chuckle, as he reports on audience response to his group’s new, driving electric sound. “The reaction was good. I think a lot of people were surprised, but people have enjoyed it.”
For his latest musical adventure, Brady, a leading light in Irish jazz, has chosen to go electric, a move that can induce a fit of the vapours among an artist’s longtime fans – as Bob Dylan or Miles Davis quickly learnt. No such wobbles for Brady, who has reinvented his internationally touring acoustic piano trio as an electric quartet on his new album, Plan B.
It was guitarist Larry Coryell, the late, great godfather of fusion, who suggested that a bubbling Fender Rhodes sound, Fender amplification, and the spirit of early Seventies Herbie Hancock would be the way to go after three albums. (The most recent, the excellent Ensam, featured singer Norma Winstone as guest.)
Brady had a close friendship with Coryell, one of the international acts who the drummer played with when they toured Ireland. You can hear Coryell together with Brady’s bass partner, Dave Redmond, on the guitarist’s final album, Last Swing With Ireland, made just before Coryell’s death in 2017 – and reviewed here by Denny Ilett.
“He was really into my trio,” says Brady, “Some of the things that Dave and I had done with him were rock-ish and he said, ‘Why don’t you approach your music this way and see what the energy level would be like?’ ”
Brady’s group has featured the heavyweight American pianist Bill Carrothers for more than a decade. “There was no opposition in the band. Bill’s one condition was that he wanted an original instrument from the Seventies,” says Brady. “I sourced a Fender Rhodes that was in really good condition from a friend here in Dublin … It doesn’t growl, there’s no crunching.”
Brady added the big tenor sax sound of the Canadian Seamus Blake and, before the Irish lockdown, road-tested the new pieces. The group then went into the studio to record Plan B. Propelled by Brady’s drumming, a deft mix of sensitivity and power, compositions vary from the brooding Out of the Blue to the neo-funk of Suicide Squeeze. There are hints of late Seventies Soft Machine and on some tracks Brady says he was consciously writing in the style of Headhunters. With venues opening their doors again, Brady is keen to explore the pieces live in Ireland and farther afield.
Even by the DIY standards of jazz, Brady, 47, is a remarkable all-rounder – composer, drummer, educator and tour promoter among his skillset. He teaches at Dublin City University and is head of jazz at the city’s Newpark Academy of Music. He has also played with artists including pianist Jason Rebello, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, trumpeter Guy Barker and singer Ian Shaw. How does he fit it all in? “With a lot of difficulty,” he chuckles.
He has had a couple of stints working with Van Morrison. The last was to demo songs in Van’s top- secret studio in Belfast. Brady says it was a fascinating experience – the enigmatic vocalist singing into his gold-plated microphone. The music has yet to be released. “He just constantly records and then eventually he goes back to that library of stuff, listens to it and goes, ‘Yeah, I want to release this.’ So, who knows, it could be out in the next decade.”
As for jazz, Brady says there is a healthy appetite in Ireland among audiences and music students. “There has been a really big surge in interest in instrumental music around particular venues – with bands like Snarky Puppy or Knower.”
His drum students often come from a rock background. “They develop their tastes from the material they’re given as they progress. I’m introducing them to Art Taylor and Jimmy Cobb and from there into more progressive stuff. Eventually I’ll try to get them into Jon Christensen and the broken eighth-note ECM sound.”
As for his own tastes, Brady, who started on piano, says he has a big affinity to drummers who play another instrument, so Jorge Rossy and, especially, Jack DeJohnette: “It’s his sense of melody, his sense of structure and just his groove – unique.” Playing for Miles Davis, of course, DeJohnette was sometimes teamed with another drummer. Is that a route for Brady? “I’d love to do that some day,” he says. I’m sure Larry Coryell would have approved.
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Plan B by the Kevin Brady Electric Quartet is released by Ubuntu Music in the UK on Oct 8 and worldwide on Oct 22
TOUR DATES IN IRELAND
Dolan’s, Limerick, Nov 25
Westport, venue tbc, Nov 26
Hawkswell Theatre, Sligo, Nov 27
Magy’s Farm, Belfast, Nov 28
Masterclass, Newpark Academy of Music, Dublin, Dec 1;
Billy Byrne’s, Kilkenny, Dec 2
Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, Dec 3
Dublin, venue tbc, Dec 4
Categories: Feature/Interview (PP)