Miles Davis once quipped, “I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later.” Butcher Brown has released forward-thinking and expansive hybrids of jazz and hip-hop since 2013. Today, they have an apt descriptor for their songs: solar music. Drawing inspiration from every sound under the sun, the Richmond, VA band adds elements of funk, soul, and rock to their foundational mix. The result is a Southern-leaning, sometimes psychedelic fusion that feels fresh yet familiar. Simultaneously working within and defying genre conventions, Butcher Brown is a jazz festival mainstay that could tour with Tyler, the Creator as easily as Khruangbin.
“We get daps from the jazz cats, the rap scene, the indie scene, and everyone else,” says drummer Corey Fonville. Every Butcher Brown album, show, and improvisational leap therein stems from the synergy, vision, and inexhaustible musical curiosity of him and his bandmates: producer/multi-instrumentalist DJ Harrison; bassist/composer Andrew Randazzo; trumpeter/saxophonist/MC Marcus “Tennishu” Tenney; and guitarist Morgan Burrs.The band’s latest album, Butcher Brown Presents Triple Trey featuring Tennishu and R4ND4ZZO BIGB4ND, deconstructs big band jazz and reshapes it in the band’s eclectic image. With all due respect to Count Basie, the album sounds nothing like your grandparents’ 45s. Randazzo adapted Tennishu’s rap beats for Butcher Brown and 10 other Richmond musicians, turning them into bold and blaring suites for Tennishu to bless with his smooth baritone. Tennishu finds new pockets of rhyme between resonant brass, smacking percussion, warm guitar, funky bass, and more. Amidst party-starting originals, the ensemble delivers a reverent yet inventive Notorious B.I.G. cover that will move crowds in every New York borough. Think of Butcher Brown Presents Triple Trey featuring Tennishu and R4ND4ZZO BIGB4ND as an alternate score to Baz Lurhman’s Great Gatsby adaptation, a brilliant blend of contemporary genre-smashing injected into the past.
The band’s past begins in Richmond, where several members attended VCU’s jazz program, and everyone mixed in the city’s vibrant music scene. Between classes and performances at local clubs, all congregated at Harrison’s home studio: Jellowstone. Jam sessions bled into blunt-passing smoke sessions soundtracked by beat tapes from renowned Richmond producer Ohbliv, D’Angelo’s sensual, funky and forward-thinking neo-soul, and saxophonist Joe Henderson’s Power to the People. All culminated in Butcher Brown’s 2014 debut, All Purpose Music, a 76-minute jazz-driven odyssey into every genre at the band’s disposal.
“Over the years, everything about this band has become more refined and mature — from the playing and producing to recording — but the soul was there from the beginning,” Randazzo says. “We already had the spark.”