Modus Factor: The Picasso Zone

Dave Wayne By

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Modus Factor: The Picasso Zone
Versatiity is the key to the musical success of The Picasso Zone by the multi-national, polystylistic electric jazz trio Modus Factor. Based in Toronto, Modus Factor is comprised of Canadian drummer (and putative bandleader) Chris Lesso, trumpeter Brownman Ali —originally from Trinidad—and Uganada- born bassist Ian De Souza. Clearly, these guys' diverse origins contributed to their abiding interest in a broad swath of musical genres which, in turn, truly enriches the music on The Picasso Zone. Though hip- hop, funk, electronica, and Afro-Caribbean influences abound, The Picasso Zone is really about modern jazz and the interesting sort of fusion that one doesn't hear in dentist's offices or elevators.

Another surprise here is the Modus Factor's big, fat sound. Almost by definition, a trumpet-drums-bass trio is going to have a stripped- down, bare-bones sound. And the guys occasionally go there. On "Still I Rise," they provide an appropriately stark backing to Maya Angelou's web-sourced recitation of her classic (and incredibly prescient) poem. But throughout the rest of the album, Modus Factor uses all sorts of approaches to expand and fill in their sound in the moment. Lesso, whose easygoing-yet- virtuosic drumming style is quite reminiscent of Steve Smith's, augments two tracks with Indian-style konnakol vocals and isn't shy about plying his electronic drum programming talents in various creative ways throughout the album. De Souza fills in some of the spaces on "Now and Zen," "Rounded Corners," and "Casa Kimono" with synthesized effects and gets up so high on the frets on "Brownian Motion" that he sounds like he's playing a piccolo bass.

Most prominent, however, is Brownman Ali's electric trumpet, which he uses in a truly revolutionary manner. Using a guitarist's pedalboard, he literally arranges the tunes on the fly, applying different effects for contrasting compositional elements and chameleonically changing sounds during his solos. One is tempted to compare Ali's sound to other prominently plugged-in brassmen such as Miles Davis, Jon Hassell and Nils Petter Molvaer. But Ali's playing is much more acrobatic and bebop- informed; rather like Randy Brecker's, who used the electric trumpet quite frequently back in the day with Larry Coryell's and Billy Cobham's bands. Not coincidentally, Brecker is Ali's teacher and mentor.

The collaboratively-written tunes are all over the place. There's everything from unapologetic dancefloor-ready electronica ("Jeet Kune Flow") and down-tempo trip-hop ("Casa Kimono," "Metanoia") to high energy jazz-funk fusion ("Now & Zen," "King Ghidorah") and excursions into various rhythmic aspects of Indian music ("Jagaan," "Afrindia"). Yet The Picasso Zone is a very tight and cohesive collection of tunes that bear repeated listening. It's one of those albums that, in the hands of lesser musicians, could easily have turned into a gummy mass of extremely well-executed clichés. One suspects that the big ears and quick brains of Lesso, Ali, and De Souza are already on to something completely new and interesting.

Track Listing

Brownian Motion, Now & Zen; Still I Rise (feat. Maya Angelou); Casa Kimono; Afindia; Rounded Corners; King Ghidorah; Jagaan (Awakening); Jeet Kune Flow; Metanoia (Transformation of the Heart).


Chris Lesso: drums, konnakol; Brownman Ali: electric trumpet; Ian De Souza: electric bass, effects; Santosh Naidu: percussion (4); Andrea Koziol: voice (3).

Album information

Title: The Picasso Zone | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Browntasaurus Records

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