Paul Brown Biography
The term “Renaissance Man” dates back to the time of Leonardo da Vinci, who was described as a man of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination.” Paul Brown’s four decade journey through the worlds of pop, R&B and jazz is the modern day musical equivalent. Starting as a drummer, he became an engineer for R&B legends (Diana Ross, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin) before evolving into a two time Grammy winning urban jazz producer (with over 60 #1 radio airplay hits) and finally a popular guitarist, artist and performer in his own right.
In the remarkable 12 years since he released his debut album Up Front, Brown has released six albums (including three that hit the Top Ten on the Billboard Albums chart), scored countless hit singles, and done thousands of performances across the U.S. and internationally, including gigs with fellow guitarists Larry Carlton, Chris Standring and current labelmate Marc Antoine (with whom he recorded the 2009 album Foreign Exchange). And yet, as he releases One Way Back, his third collection on Woodward Avenue Records after The Funky Joint (2012) and Truth B Told (2014), Brown freely admits he is still trying to find himself as an artist.
While keeping his trademark deep funk and cool urban vibes flowing, Brown taps deeper than ever before into his lifelong blues influences, which includes a foundational passion for greats like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Little Feat and B.B. King. This edge is immediately apparent on the album’s lead single, a bold and fiery re-imagining of The Crusaders’ soul-jazz classic “Put It Where You Want It,” which he describes as a “combination of Wes Montgomery and Larry Carlton,” the latter who played on the original recording of the tune.
“Even after all these years,” he says, “I truly feel that I’m continuing to evolve as a guitarist, and I’m glad the way the genre is right now allows artists to follow the deeper passions of their musical hearts more than ever before. With each album, I feel like I’ve grown as a musician and artist, and I’m a far different player than I was when I recorded Up Front. When that came out, I had never performed a live show as a guitarist. You can practice an instrument in a room all you want, but until you play live, you don’t acquire a full level of skills. All of that gigging has helped me grow technically, and playing what I have imagined in my head is a lot easier than it used to be. The freedom and confidence I have gained from those translates to my personal development and allows me to bring fresh new ideas into the studio.”
While extending his long history of collaborations with the genre’s top saxophonists with “Sexy Thang” featuring Darren Rahn, One Way Back’s deeper musical core is a series of dynamic collaborations with top genre guitarists Chris Standring, Peter White, Marc Antoine and Chuck Loeb. While Brown’s electric is front and center as the lead melodic voice, he lets each of his peers bring his own sonic aesthetic to the mix as he “interprets inside of it.” Other highlights are the powerhouse, brass fired Memphis soul influenced “Well Alright” featuring vocalist (and former Hi Records songwriter Don Bryant) and the rich blues-drenched closer “Heaven” featuring vocals by Brown and simmering Rhodes and Hammond B-3 textures by his blues keyboardist friend with the same name known as “Brother Paul Brown.”
The Los Angeles born and raised guitarist’s R&B driven sound has been a foundational element in urban jazz since the early 90s, when he produced saxophonist Boney James’ breakout debut Trust. He has since worked with many of the genre’s most influential artists, including Carlton, White, Euge Groove, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Golub, Al Jarreau and Jessy J. “Winelight,” the second single from Brown’s sophomore album The City, was ranked by Mediabase as the genre’s most spun track of that year. Radio & Records and Mediabase declared “The Rhythm Method,” the first single from Brown’s third release White Sand, the most played song of 2007. The title track from Jessy J’s Brown-produced debut Tequila Moon earned the same distinction for 2008.
PAUL BROWN – “One Way Back”
When a wild force of musical nature who has two Grammys, over 60 #1 radio airplay hits for himself and other artists and seven previous hit solo albums over the past 12 years says he’s still “evolving and trying to find himself as an artist,” we best perk our ears in expectation of something bold and fresh. After all those accolades and over a thousand live performances, Paul Brown remains joyously restless – and the only place for him to go is deeper into the music that’s driven his life from the start, the blues. While his new Woodward Avenue Records release One Way Back is not a blues album per se, the guitarist’s definitely got those influences as an undercurrent throughout these eclectic ten tracks.
While a lot of attention will be paid to his impressive all-star guest list – Darren Rahn, Peter White, Chuck Loeb, Marc Antoine, Chris Standring and former Hi Records songwriter, the Wilson Pickettesque Don Bryant – Brown’s secret musical weapon here is his blues compadre with the same name, a keyboardist known as “Brother Paul Brown,” whose arsenal – including Rhodes and Hammond B-3 – simmers soulfully throughout. Also foundational is a veteran group of sideman the guitarist calls his own “Wrecking Crew” (a reference to the legendary 60’s and 70’s group of studio musicians who backed a multitude of hits). Keeping the deep funk flowing behind Brown and his renowned guests are bassist Roberto Vally, drummer Gordon Campbell, keyboardist Marco Basci and percussion great Lenny Castro.
The jam begins with the album’s first single, a brash and brassy, deeply funky and in your face, decidedly bluesy twist on The Crusaders’ soul-jazz classic “Put It Where You Want It,” which Brown – whose fiery solo is a highlight – affectionately refers to as “Wes Montgomery meets Larry Carlton.” Brown brings the soulful coolness of decades of work with some of urban jazz’s top saxmen to “Sexy Thang,” an infectious and hypnotic, slyly slinky and “greasy” gem featuring the powerful dual punch of Brown and saxman Darren Rahn. After “Hush,” another Crusaders influenced tune featuring Brown’s crisp guitar and brassy harmonies over deep old school soul-jazz grooves, the guitarist gets into the core of the album that features collaborations with fellow urban jazz guitar luminaries Chris Standring, Peter White, Marc Antoine (now a labelmate at Woodward Avenue Records) and Chuck Loeb.
The trippy, vibey and dreamily atmospheric “Picadilly Circus” was inspired by Brown and Standring’s recent exploration of London while in town to perform dual shows at Pizza Express. It’s got Standring’s echoes and effects laden flow and a colorful swirl of his snappy acoustic and Brown’s dynamic electric guitar. Likewise, “Riverwalk” finds Brown working his way into Antoine’s laid back, groovin’ in the pocket sensual Mediterranean aesthetic. Offering a spirited retro-soul interlude between the guitarisma, “Well Alright” finds grown old schooling it Memphis style, creating a simmering, brassy Wilson Pickett/Sam & Dave vibe behind the rich vocals of former Hi Records songwriter Don Bryant (who penned the classic “I Can’t Stand The Rain”). This tune is a great showcase for the dynamic interaction between Brown and the keys of “Brother Paul Brown.”
The guitar madness continues with the lush, easy flowing “Take Flight, which” finds Brown riffing off the sensual and balmy magic of Peter White, creating the perfect intertwining of graceful acoustic sweetness and gritty electric energy. The final “guitar summit” is the whimsical, yet sophisticated bluesy jazz tune “Rear View Mirror,” which artfully blends the trademark styles of Brown (on Telecaster) and Chuck Loeb (jazz guitar) into a soulful “Larry and Wes” flavored vibe. Brown’s prowess as a melodic pop songwriter comes to fresh light on the gently flowing title track, a sensual ballad featuring hypnotic acoustic guitar harmonies behind his lead voice on the electric. Closing the eclectic collection, he showcases his deepening chops as a blues singer on the ultra-romantic, Bonnie Raitt influenced gospel blues folk tune “Heaven,” which features “Brother Paul Brown” on keys and Kenny Gradney from Little Feat on bass.
It would be easy at this point for Paul Brown to rest on his accolades and crank out some new easy flowing hits on par with the many he’s done in the past. Yet his deeper exploration of blues influences, attention to every last dynamic sonic detail, willingness to spar with his guitarist peers and desire to update a classic we all know in a fresh and wildly funky new way let us know that he’s got a lot more to say. Let’s hope the Renaissance Man of urban jazz keeps trying to “find himself as an artist” this brilliantly in the future! – Jonathan Widran