Butcher Brown is an up-to-the minute throwback to the great progressive jazz bands of
the 60s and 70s.
They are a hard-working band in an era where most groups are fleeting assemblages, together only long enough to record. Their organic coherence emerges from long collaboration as a group of equals rather than a top-down, leader/ sideman lineup. They are building their audience by any means necessary, combining a conventional, label-oriented approach with releasing “underground” tapes, disciplined rehearsal and engaging, adventurous performance.
This musical maturity is surprising in such a youthful band. The players in Butcher Brown were all born after the mid-70s golden age of fusion. But their modern, hip-hop- inflected funk has rich echoes of Weather Report, Return to Forever, early Earth Wind and Fire and, perhaps, a pungent whiff of Zappa. Like those bands, Butcher Brown’s unified sound comes from the intertwined talents of the four members, each bringing something unique to the mix.
Multi-instrumentalist Devonne Harris is arguably, the visionary of this egalitarian band. His responsive keyboard work shapes the harmonic colors through which the music pulses and flows. The son of a DJ, who grew up in in a funk/rock/R&B saturated environment, he’s had a lifetime fascination with what makes a record work. His deep understanding is grounded in phenomenal virtuosity. (In addition to playing keys in Butcher Brown he’s the long-time drummer in John D’earth’s band, Central Virginia’s premiere straight-ahead jazz group.) Under the name DJ Harrison, he’s created a vast catalog of hip hop beats. Jellowstone Records, his home studio, is a pivotal focus of the vital Richmond music scene, with a growing reputation drawing big name visitors including Nicholas Payton. (who recorded his 2014 record “Numbers” there with the band.)DJ Harrison has just released his first solo album on Stonethrow, titled: HazyMoods.
Harris calls bassist Andrew Randazzo the band’s navigator. “He’s the cool one, the calm one. He’s the mortar, binding together the rhythmic and harmonic side of the music. Both onstage and off, he holds everything together and makes everything go smoothly. And he is an amazing player.” In the band’s funk-inflected music, the foundation is foreground; the bass as much a lead as a rhythm instrument.
Drummer Corey Fonville is pure explosive energy. “He’s always ready for battle,” Harris says. “A huge, controlling factor in our sound.” A percussion prodigy turned international jazz sideman, Fonville’s national performance career when he was just 14, with a 2005 appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. In the years since Fonville’s taken his propulsive energy around the world, touring with jazz stars like Christian Scott and Nicholas Payton. He’s the beating heart of Butcher Brown, pumping out fresh, danceable rhythmic complexities are aimed at both the brain and the hips.
Having started playing music in elementary school, and coming from a family of musicians, you could almost say that guitarist Morgan Burrs was destined to lead a life of music. Picking up the guitar, only 6 years ago, he’s become a force on RVA’s music scene. While in high school, he was awarded full-tuition scholarships to go up to Boston and study at Berklee College of Music’s 5 week summer program, which played a key role in Morgan deciding to get a degree in Music. He’s currently a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) studying jazz guitar.
A Richmond native, Marcus Tenney started his musical career at the age of 11. After winning the Louis Armstrong Award in 2003, he began studying trumpet with Dr. Rex Richardson, world-renowned trumpeter and former Joe Henderson sideman at Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2007, Marcus placed third in the National Trumpet Competition. Marcus has played/worked/recorded with artists such as Nicholas Payton, Butcher Brown, Billy Williams, Braxton Cook, Count Bass D, Bon Iver, Matthew E. White, Natalie Prass and many more.
Their recordings to date, the polished soul/funk of “All Purpose Music [Ropeadope] and the 20-track underground groove-laden beats cassette “GrownFolk” provide two great windows into the band’s charms. And the controlled collision of all of these talents makes Butcher Brown a fun band to watch.
Dedicated to innovation, informed by a love of the past, its modernistic fusion is aptly described as “hip hop Mahavishnu.” Impressive as they are individually, together they are something increasingly rare: a real band, playing for their audience and for each other, on the verge of a brilliant future.