"I feel a lot," says Braxton Cook, the genre-shifting musician. "I'm a deeply emotional person. I just love. You know what I mean? Like, I love my family. I love my people. I love my friends. I love music. I have a belief that things can and will be better." His latest album, Who Are You When No One Is Watching? (out February 24, 2023, Nettwerk Music Group) holds up a mirror to ourselves and the society around us. It's at once confrontational, thoughtful, sentimental. "People need to see themselves, to some degree. Even if I'm speaking about tragedy, there's still that glimmer of hope I infuse in my music." Which is to say, Who Are You When No One Is Watching? is also very much a thing of beauty.
This is expected of Cook. His acumen as a saxophonist is legend and frequently elicits descriptors such as "virtuoso" and "prodigy" (see: The New Yorker, Jazz Times, FADER). He's played with Rihanna, toured with Solange Knowles, performed for Quincy Jones. He is a Juilliard graduate (from an already overachieving family: Mom was a classical pianist, dad a Georgetown professor) and even an Emmy winner (for a John Coltrane mini-doc, produced by Vox). At face value, he is an undisputed jazz wunderkind. But with Who Are You When No One Is Watching? it's clear that Cook — who mingles R&B, soul, funk, hip hop into a foundation of jazz — is also very much a chronicler and shaper of modern culture.
Right out of the gate, Cook makes this clear. “MB (For Ma’Khia Bryant)" is a remembrance of the 16-year-old teen killed in 2021, by police in Columbus, Ohio. "Being in this country that is inherently racist, the role that you play is either looking the other way or sharing these stories," Cook says. He improvised the melody — an intentionally powerful way of capturing his gut reaction to the unfolding news — off of a set of loops from his friend, celebrated English drummer Moses Boyd. Instead of being a dirge, "MB" is even more heartbreaking: a shimmering, carefree fever dream of a young life, otherwise cut short.
Who Are You When No One Is Watching? journeys through hope and love and family — before ending a weightier note. "The Answer," an ethereal-soul take, is also a gut-punch. "Oh, I don’t know why / I can't find the answers / I don’t know why / Time's moving faster / I don’t know why / Are we moving backwards?" he sings. The track, which he wrote on the guitar, looks around us and feels an overwhelming sense of loss and grief. "There's something kind of melancholic about hearing a melody that repeats over and over again," he explains. "It's almost like a prayer."Read more
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"... we found ourselves transfixed by the intelligent phrasing and rich tone of a young saxophonist named Braxton Cook..." - [Fritz Hahn, The Washington Post]
"The inclusion of 21-year-old saxophonist Braxton Cook, who joined the group during its weekend engagement, was an inspired choice. Cook’s texture and tone channeled the spirit of John Coltrane’s “Alabama.” From his unwavering high notes to his forceful shouts of anger projected toward the audience..." - [Shannon Effinger, Downbeat Magazine]
…a refreshing jazz-R&B take on Black love…” – Billboard
Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson
Who Are You When No...
Nettwerk Music Group
What Does it Mean to...
Feel The Love
Somewhere In Between
Wide Open (Summer of '95)From: Sketch
By Braxton Cook