I think we have to thank Donald Byrd, the trumpet master, for encouraging the young Otis Brown III to pursue a career in playing music instead of music education. And sax ace Joe Lovano for taking him out on tour with his band.
Finally, here’s his debut album on Blue Note which, thank heaven, is not a drummer’s album but one of the best and cohesive albums of the year so far. The central theme here is the three-part title track composition by singer Bilal who delivers some eerie and intoxicating vocals here. Robert Glasper is on piano and you can find a lot of Glasperisms throughout: some hymn-like, repetitive, almost hypnotic chords, vamp-and jamlike tinkling, or deep, soulful voicings.
Also on hand are players who all worked together with Brown in the Jazz ensemble of New York’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, like high-energy Keyon Harrold, brilliant sax man John Ellis or one-of-a kind guitarist Nir Felder.
The main theme for Brown here is Family and Faith. And so, he called on vocalist Nikki Ross for his 8-minute plus Gospel medley of three songs which Ross delivers breathtakingly. On another vocal, Gretchen Parlato has done the unbelievable: she worked on a cover of Shania Twain’s (of all people) “You’re Still The One” which I think only works because of Glasper’s typical, shining arrangement and Parlato’s inimitable vocal.
The album was co-produced by bassist Derrick Hodge who released his own debut last year (the equally fascinating “Live Today”) and who arranged another mesmerizing song with Nikki Ross on vocals (“I Am Your Song”). Holding it all together without trying to put himself into the forefront, is drummer Otis Brown III who can be felt all over the 11 pieces, but in sympathetically reluctant manner.
Robert Glasper said about Brown: “What you realize immediately when playing with Otis is that playing the drums is giving him amazing fun; he beams all over his face like a little child.” Could well be the same reaction when listening to this stunning album.