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Album Review

BrandonLee Cierley: Camaraderie

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BrandonLee Cierley: Camaraderie
Camaraderie (Lofijazzsoul,2022) is BrandonLee Cierley's introduction to the jazz world, where he is a relative newcomer. A Tacoma, WA native who now works out of Portland, OR, Cierley clearly prioritizes original composition as much as he does spontaneous composition as a jazz tenor saxophonist. For a younger player, and as stated, a musician new to the jazz idiom, it is often the case. With the major shift in the recording industry over the past decade, more and more younger players are prioritizing recording and composition without much experience on the bandstand. This is especially true for young musicians like Cierley, hitting the scene after a two year pandemic layoff where performing live and attending jam sessions was not an option. Against these odds, Cierley has put together a satisfying session featuring some of the finest young musicians in the Pacific Northwest.

The first three tracks feature drummer Xavier Lecouturier, a shaker and mover on the Seattle scene at age 25, and a fine composer with an album of his own on the prestigious Origin Records label. The opening triad also features pianist Dylan Hayes, who made a name for himself in Seattle before departing for his current residence in Portland. Seattle resident and Alaska native Martin Budde joins on guitar with trombonist Chris Shuttleworth and bassist Nick Morrison filling out the crew.

"Cherry Blossoms" is an indicator of what is to come in this session, with Cierley's writing showing warm melodic stretches skillfully executed by the front line. "Open Door" again carries a sound melody, with Cierley and Shuttleworth providing a spirited exchange in soloing. Lecouturier has what is often referred to as a "big beat," his relentless embellishments acting as a dynamic undertow to the frontline's melodic references. Cierley's "Solitude" is a change-up with a lush chordal harmony highlighted by Hayes and Budde comping sparingly, tastefully providing harmonic support. The melody is nostalgic, with some beautiful highlights, though the rambling nature of Cierley's writing for this session takes away some of the shine.

The final five tracks feature the Portland musicians Cierley seemed to have in mind when writing these tunes. Drummer Machado Mijiga's work may be the highlight of the album, breaking loose from the constraints of composition and creating space for his mates. "Baachan '' finds pianist Dario LaPoma's sparkling harmony supporting what may be Cierley's finest playing on the record. He seems to find himself in his solo, playing darting, fluid lines in between LaPoma's sparse chordal support and Mijiga's polyrhythmic insertions.

Cierley's compositions feature bright, reflective melodies housed in lush, colorful harmony. There is a prose-like sense to the melody lines, with harmonies leaning to the dense side. If the album has an achilles heel, it would be the lack of room for this fine gathering of improvisers to work. Often the written melodies dominate the narrative, with very little dynamic variation to space and time. Somehow it does come together, with the strength being the fine musicianship of the assembled cast.

Focusing on a single session with an integral group learning new original music is a difficult task. To truly traverse through the compositions and find space to operate requires time. The latter half of the album featuring Portland players Cierley has spent the most time with clearly comes off with a greater sense of melodic freedom, a result of simply being more familiar with the tunes. The "Seattle" contingent of Lecouturier, Hayes and Budde are skilled and resourceful players who have grown up together musically in the band Meridian Odyssey, recording two albums and going out on the road together. Real life; there has been some dues paid there. On this recording, their obvious virtuosity is under the restraint of familiarity, or the lack thereof. The music on this album is held tightly within the compositional prowess of the session leader, Cierley. The sheer number of musicians contributing in itself is a mammoth undertaking for him as a bandleader. To that end, it does say that he is keeping good musical company, with musicians who are treading the same path. His playing, while technically proficient and imaginative, is at a point in its evolution where it needs to wander outside of its comfort zone, and pay some serious dues with established veteran musicians on the bandstand. It needs time with the tunes, with the music and its recordings. Cierley is operating on pure talent right now, of which he has in abundance. But hip music is created by hip people, hip to the understanding of jazz as a great Black American art form, with a history told by generations of artistic masters. BrandonLee Cierley has cast the first stone to gaining that understanding with Camaraderie. Now is the time to experience and benefit from the response.

Track Listing

Cherry Blossoms; Solitude; Open Door; Heimdall's Creek; Baachan; Feelin' Like Kobe; Bass Interlude; Multnomah.

Personnel

BrandonLee Cierley: saxophone; Xavier Lecouturier: drums; Martin Budde: guitar; Machado Mijiga: drums; Dylan Hayes: keyboards; Chris Shuttleworth: trombone; Nick Morrison: bass; Dario LaPoma: piano; Justin Copeland: trumpet; Christian Ramirez: bass; Clay Parkman: bass, electric; Frances Cierley: flute.

Album information

Title: Camaraderie | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Lofijazzsoul


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