Love and heartbreak. People and places and things. It’s common knowledge that that’s where legions of musicians have found the inspiration for their songs.
Literature and mathematics are not quite up there, but the Toronto jazz trumpeter and composer Brownman (born “Nick Ali”) says those are his go-to topics when he sits down to compose.
And, as someone who heads seven (!) different ensembles, the Trinidad-born Brownman never stops composing. His outfits include Cruzao, a Latin-jazz-funk quintet; the hard-swinging Brownman Akoustic Quartet; the 15-strong Latin-jazz big band Cruzao Grupo Monstruoso; and his Miles Davis-influenced Brownman Electryc Trio.
“I read a lot, on average about three books a week, so my tunes are often inspired by literature.”
Where he gets the time to play with each outfit is a mystery, but that’s beside the point. Just like his creatively restless idol Davis, Brownman is a prolific and adventurous spirit.
“I read a lot, on average about three books a week, so my tunes are often inspired by literature,” he says. “For example, the tune “Mago Malpensado” (“The Evil Magician”) on the Cruzao CD Shades Of Brown was my attempt to encapsulate the story of Faust using a Latin-jazz setting as the backdrop.” That album, which came out in 2002, led to a National Jazz Award for composition.
And where does math figure in the compositional equation?
“Before I went to New York to study with Randy Brecker, I did a physics degree, so sometimes I try and let the language of the universe – mathematics – guide my writing,” he explains. “For example, I find the irrational number series fascinating. This is a number that can not be expressed as an exact ratio, and I’ve been playing with rhythmic mappings for irrational number series over the last few years.”
He uses the piece “Irrational Funktion,” on the Electryc Trio’s fantastic 2013 CD, Gravitation: A Study In Freefall, to illustrate his point.
“It features a bass line whose syncopated rhythms are drawn almost entirely from a particular irrational number series mapping,” he says. “It gave me this lop-sided rhythmic thing, which sparked the writing process. I then gave these rhythms a key centre and assigned pitches so a bass line emerged. From there, I added harmony, and finally wrote a challenging melody over the entire thing.”
If that went over your head like it did mine, just keep this in mind: The music remains totally accessible, groove-heavy jazz, created by people who play like it’s their last day on this planet. It’s visceral, and it cooks.
“I love this freaking thing, and feel honoured that Gravitation is now a part of my own musical lineage,” Brownman says.
Publisher: Brownman Music
Selected Discography: Shades of Brown (with Cruzao, 2002), Juggernaut – (with Brownman Electryc Trio, 2009), Gravitation: A Study In Freefall – (with Brownman Electryc Trio, 2013)
SOCAN member since 2000