Don’t let the picture of piano keys on its CD cover fool you: Ijamsville’s Dick Brewer’s “Brewer’s Brew” is not a conventional jazz album. In fact, there are even spots throughout its seven tracks during which it’s hard to believe that what you are hearing is jazz music at all. From the Latin styles that prove prominent in many spots, to the electronic bleeps and bloops most tracks highlight more than an ’80s night at the local karaoke spot, “Brewer’s Brew” is probably the only honest thing a guy with the last name Brewer could name such a collection.
The end result is surprisingly pretty good. Leaning toward a progressive rock-type King Crimson-lite sound with its groovy electronic drums and staccato keyboard parts some may think they heard on a late-night infomercial 25 years ago, “Brewer’s Brew” might not be the kind of jazz you initially had in mind, but that’s OK. The stellar musicianship more than makes up for any misconception you may have when initially pressing play.
Coming out of the gate with fury, “Dessert Flirt,” and then “Hips And Lips” and “K-Pasa,” prove to be the best possible way to open the disc. Each track provides the kind of energy, intrigue and musicianship a vocal-free release such as this needs to lean on to be successful. The trio of tracks engage in a battle to be anointed the best of the electronic-heavy bunch, allowing the listener to ultimately prove themselves the victor, if only for the amount of imagination all three songs display.
While the first is the smoothest of the three with its booming floor tom anchoring the stanzas in and out of breaks, the second and third highlight some deliciously retro electric guitar playing, evoking Genesis/Phil Collins sideman Daryl Stuermer’s 1987 solo debut “Steppin’ Out.” It’s prog at its poppiest, and the off-time drums of “Hips And Lips” and the salsa party horns of “K-Pasa” prove to be the best ways to illuminate the exceptional guitar performances.
Only when the level of difficulty dissipates does “Brewer’s Brew” lag. “Fat Alice” is fine once it gets going, but having to live through the simplistic drum pattern easing the song into finding its footing during the opening minute quickly eases the gas on a ride that one time promised excitement. “She’s So Fine,” meanwhile, is the only proper slow song of the bunch, and rather than sounding interesting (which slow songs can indeed do, you know), the track simply comes off as a second-rate imitation of a soundtrack to The Weather Channel. Granted, it had to be done — if only to even the album out — but it didn’t have to appear this thoughtless.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the one traditional-jazz-sounding track of the set, “All At Once,” is easily the album’s best. Here, the electronics are stored away and the hammering bass line sets the foundation for genuinely fantastic musical performances highlighted by Chris Vadala’s on-fire saxophone. Though removed from the keyboards and guitars that paint the rest of the release, “All At Once” evokes Chick Corea and a mild form of electric jazz that keeps its pacing stout because of that simple yet pointed bass performance. If nothing else it’s the only time you begin to think that the CD’s cover seems appropriate.
But that’s the beauty of “Brewer’s Brew.” Forget what you may be expecting and simply sit down with each of the seven tracks to try and get a hold on what exactly it is that Dick Brewer and his friends are conjuring up. Is it acid jazz? Is it 1980s-tinged prog rock? Is it electric jazz? Is it funk jazz? Is it fusion? Is it pop music?
Actually, it shouldn’t really matter. Because at the end of the day, no matter which genre you try to classify this particular collection of songs, there is one word that sums it up the best: good.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***