Butcher Brown is an up-to-the minute throwback to the great progressive jazz bands of the 60s and 70s. Whilst all members were born after the mid-70s golden age of fusion, 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 five members, each bringing something unique to the mix.
Whilst each individual member maintains their own illustrious side-projects (working with artists such as Christian Scott, Chris “Daddy” Dave, Rapsody, 9th Wonder), Butcher Brown is a hard-working band in an era where most groups are fleeting assemblages, together only long enough to record. The band cultivate a dedicated audience through combining a conventional, label-oriented approach with releasing “underground” tapes, disciplined rehearsal and engaging, adventurous performance. Recent high-profile performances include touring with Lettuce and Galactic last year, whilst their future schedule looks packed as they prepare to support Turkuaz in October, Kamasi Washington’s US dates this November.
Butcher Brown’s releases to date range from the polished soul/funk of “All Purpose Music” (Ropeadope) (2014) to the 20-track underground groove-laden beats cassette “GrownFolk” in 2017. Both were released to critical acclaim and explains their almost cult status in the music world. The band have come in leaps and bounds in recent times: last year’s “Live at the Vagabond” (Gearbox) record showcases the raw energy of their live shows, whilst the band’s most recent Bandcamp release, Afrobeat-themed “Afrokuti: A Tribute to Fela”, provides further testament to the band’s tight synchronicity as well as the truly unbelievable musical capabilities of each band member. The band’s upcoming album “Camden Sessions,” was recorded at Mark Ronson’s studio in London, and will be coming out on Gearbox Records. Drummer Corey states, “Recording at Mark Ronson’s studio was an amazing opportunity and having the chance to share that moment with friends brought out the best in all of us; the record definitely reflects that.”
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. Under the name DJ Harrison, he’s created a vast catalog of hip hop beats and has just released his first solo album “HazyMoods” under Stones Throw. 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). Recently projects include playing keys and synths on Jack White’s latest album “Boarding House Reach” and taking part in his third collaborative Playlist Retreat, headed by DJ Jazzy Jeff. “Being selected for Jazzy Jeff’s Playlist Retreat was very enlightening! Being around so many of my musical heroes and making new friends pushed my creativity to a level I haven’t reached in a long time. Truly inspiring!” says Harrison.
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, playing with Christian Scott at New York’s The Blue Note and performing alongside Chris “Daddy” Dave in China. He’s the beating heart of Butcher Brown, pumping out fresh, danceable rhythmic complexities aimed at both the brain and the hips.
Having started playing music in elementary school, and coming from a family of musicians, you could 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. Recently he has collaborated with hip hop producer legend 9th Wonder and rapper Rapsody.
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 Billy Williams, Braxton Cook, Count Bass D, Bon Iver, Matthew E. White, Natalie Prass and many more.
As a band dedicated to innovation and informed by a love of the past, Butcher Brown’s 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.