Butcher Brown Were Loose and Authentic at Ottawa Jazz Festival

OLG Stage, June 28

Photo: Kamara Morozuk

BY Luke PearsonPublished Jul 2, 2024

After the laid-back, Mediterranean breeziness of Gabi Hartmann on Thursday, it was a whole different kind of melting pot in the OLG tent for Friday's After Dark programming. Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, five-piece fusion dynamo Butcher Brown brought no island zephyrs (although the air was often laced with a certain pungent aroma) and no sand between your toes, serving up some deep-fried southern blasts of their own heritage instead: jazz, soul, funk, RnB, some hip-hop — a different, distinctly American kind of sophistication.

Things started out just a little awkwardly, with the energy onstage slightly loose and uncertain for a couple of tracks, but once everyone settled in and the sax found its place in the mix the band moved from strength to strength. It slapped, it rolled, it sometimes slowed to hold your hand, but there was always something interesting going on, quite often in the background courtesy of Devonne Harris on keys. Ensconced in a cubicle of vintage synths, he circulated jazz memos and funk bulletins all night, offering up white-hot organ solos but also some seriously crusted-up sound beds for others to bounce on — he even had a rotating speaker going behind him (an analog curio you don't see every day), which made one extended trumpet solo from frontman Marcus Tenney sound like cascading golden drops sluicing into a massive emptying sludge drain.

It was honestly not abstract or avant-garde at all though; we were firmly in the realm of melody and movement, groove and bounce, with drummer Corey Fonville moving fluidly through a dictionary of breakbeats as well as more classic jazz rides. At one point all he did was add a snare to a roiling groove that we'd already been all caught up in, and the whole crowd noticed — a great drummer's moment. Shout out also to Andrew Randazzo on bass, and guitarist Morgan Burrs who mostly dealt in smooth backing chords but melted faces with one extended Hendrix-style solo toward the end.

As a frontman, Tenney could perhaps use some more energy, especially since he was demanding it from us all the time (when he wasn't telling us to visit their website). A minor quibble in a style where performance reigns supreme, but a sure bandleader in jazz is also kind of a thing, and it sometimes felt like the proceedings could have been pulled together a bit. That aside, he seemed real and authentic — everything did. 

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