In the last year, jazz-funk combo Butcher Brown added two members to its core band of DJ Harrison on keys and production, Andrew Randazzo on bass and Corey Fonville on drums: guitarist Morgan Burrs and trumpet player Marcus Tenney. The band has celebrated the additions with the release of a live show from their favorite hometown venue, The Vagabond in Richmond, Virginia. The band delivers a tight set – in more ways than one, unfortunately, since the albums clocks in at only 37 minutes. Still, a desire for more is hardly a serious criticism, and Live at Vagabond is an enjoyable high energy romp.
As a groove forward, high energy, jazz-funk band, the feeling of Butcher Brown is probably most analogous to a band like Soulive, particularly with the addition of a guitarist who is as inclined to fuzzed out fireworks as Soulive’s Eric Krasno is. But while Soulive revels in the jam, laying down grooves and settling in for the long run, Butcher Brown tends to a tighter composed narrative. The songs aren’t as long as you might find in a live Soulive set (only the opening track “Tomahawk” clocks in at over 7 minutes) but the compositions manage to cover a lot of ground and show a sharp sense of composition in addition to improvisational acuity. The album’s closer, “Tunnelvision” opens with a fusion fanfare of interlocking parts that could have been lifted straight off a classic Return to Forever album. The beginning of the solo section stands something at odds with the opening: it’s more relaxed and laidback. Still, it maintains a sense of movement. At first, it’s not clear whose solo it is, with trumpet guitar and bass taking brief turns before the trumpet reasserts itself and brings it home.
This ability to so quickly navigate turns between styles or musicians is where Butcher Brown really excels and the band is at its most exciting in those moments as on “Tunnelvision” or when the trumpet and keys toss around a reference to jazz standard “Hot House” in their uptempo R&B song “Cairo”. The opening track “Tomahawk” is a sort of blues guitar feature, until, halfway through, a one-time bridge appears. Over descending chords from the bass, the guitar switches modes to more fusion fireworks. The slickness doesn’t hold for that long, though, as the blues takes charge again.
It’s hard to find fault with Live at Vagabond, save that I wish it went on for longer. Four Stars