LETTUCE is (a) the prime ingredient in a salad, (b) a slang for cash, (c) a green herb that can be smoked, (d) a genre-busting six-member funk/jazz/soul/jam/psychedelic/hip-hop/art-rock/ambient/ avant-garde/experimental collective formed in 1992 by four alumni of the prestigious Berklee College Of Music, or (e) all of the above.

If you answered “e,” then you’re on to the ever-changing musical palette and all-inclusive goals of LETTUCE’s sixth studio album, Elevate, and its ongoing re-interpretation of the band’s name as “Let Us.” In their earliest days as students, they would roam the cities of the Northeast, and implore others to “Let Us play.” Starting with their 2002 debut album, the phrase has been affixed to their first four albums, as in (Let Us) Outta Here (2002), (Let Us) Rage! (2008), (Let Us) Fly! (2012) and (Let Us) Crush (2015). Elevate (2019) is the band’s first studio album since 2016’s Mt. Crushmore and the follow-up to its 2017 live effort, Witches Stew.

Recorded at Colorado Sound outside of Denver, near the home of New York transplants and band co-founders, guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff and percussionist Adam Deitch, with legendary engineer Russ Elevado (D’Angelo, The Roots, Erykah Badu), Elevate shows LETTUCE touching on its past while moving full force into the future. The band explores its funk roots in the Tower of Power like punch of “Ready to Live” (the cover of a song by Cold Blood’s Lydia Pense), the Prince-like swagger of “Royal Highness” and the OG blues-soul of “Love Is Too Strong,” while expanded trip-hop sounds of the space age audio-scapes like “Trapezoid,” “Gang 10” and “Purple Cabbage” show the influence of sax player Ryan Zoidis’ Korg X-911 synths and Nigel Hall’s Rhodes keyboards.

“This album definitely stretches the boundaries,” says chief composer/percussionist Deitch, whose chance meeting with co-founder “Shmeeans” while 16-year-olds at a summer camp before their freshmen year of college proved momentous. “The idea was to keep exploring the different areas of funk and hip-hop beats, then writing melodies to those songs that made sense.”

The more progressive/spacey vibe, with elements of Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Eno and Miles Davis, also comes naturally to the band, according to founding member and bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes, an Orange County native whose father, Tommy Coomes, is a successful musician with a number of albums to his credit.

“We’re big improvisational music and arts fans,” Erick says. “We consider them part of the same world. It’s like painting live with five other people, one arm and a single brush.”

Guitarist Shmeeans compares the group’s eclectic, free-wheeling approach to “the modern NBA and its position-less basketball,” Nigel Hall, the band’s resident singer, also takes vocals on the album’s two covers, Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (one of the album’s two focus tracks, along with “Krewe”) and Lydia Pense’s “Ready to Live.” “As long as you listen, play your part and remember where the ‘one’ is, you can thrive in this band,” says Nigel.

Trumpet and horn-player Eric “Benny” Bloom, a Rhode Island native who has been a full-time member of LETTUCE since 2011, notes, “This isn’t just a funk band anymore. We’re playing every style of music in every song. You can’t categorize it. We have the freedom to do whatever we want that’s appropriate for the song.”

Much of the futuristic, yet warm and analog feel, of Elevate can be attributed to sax player, Portland, ME native and co-founding member Ryan Zoidis, who continued to explore the limits of his new toy, a vintage Korg X-911 synth.

“I was still figuring it out on the last album, trouble-shooting how it would work,” says Ryan. “It’s responsible not just for the ways the band has changed musically, but it’s improved my life in general. It’s great to have have a lot more options with my sound rather than just relying on the one standard timbre of the dry saxophone. There are now a bunch of different voices I can pull up.” He points to “Trapezoid” as a piece for which he recorded himself playing the synth over a click track and then sent to Deitch, who turned it into the song on the album.

Other album highlights include Smirnoff’s nod to Carlos Santana and Trey Anastasio on the Latin-flavored and playfully named “Shmink Dabby,” the spaghetti western meets ‘60s Ethiopian funk by way of the French Ethiopiques compilation albums in the focus track, “Krewe” and the Marcus King cameo vocal on the B.B. King/Al Green gospel blues of “Love Is Too Strong.” The latter is reminiscent of other guest appearances in the past by the likes of John Scofield and Fred Wesley on LETTUCE’s debut, Outta Here, or Dwele on Rage!

“There’s always something new to be learned as musicians and as people,” adds Shmeeans. “We’re trying to get a little bit better every day.”

Says Ryan: “We realize more and more that this band is a gift we’ve been given. Everyone contributes, like a successful sports team. We’ve really become family over the years. We’ve known there was magic in this from the moment we first got together as 16-year-olds.”
That magic continues to grow with the band’s new album, a democratic ensemble in which there is no leader, but a complete unit that functions as a single entity, with plenty of moving parts.

All together now… Let us Elevate.

Butcher Brown is an up-to-the minute throwback to the great progressive jazz bands of
the 60s and 70s. They are a hard-working band in an era where most groups are
fleeting assemblages, together only long enough to record. Their organic coherence
emerges from long collaboration as a group of equals rather than a top-down, leader/
sideman lineup. They are building their audience by any means necessary, combining a
conventional, label-oriented approach with releasing “underground” tapes, disciplined
rehearsal and engaging, adventurous performance.
This musical maturity is surprising in such a youthful band. The players in Butcher
Brown were all born after the mid-70s golden age of fusion. But their modern, hip-hopinflected funk has rich echoes of Weather Report, Return to Forever, early Earth Wind
and Fire and, perhaps, a pungent whiff of Zappa. Like those bands, Butcher Brown’s
unified sound comes from the intertwined talents of the four members, each bringing
something unique to the mix.
Multi-instrumentalist Devonne Harris is arguably, the visionary of this egalitarian band.
His responsive keyboard work shapes the harmonic colors through which the music
pulses and flows. The son of a DJ, who grew up in in a funk/rock/R&B saturated
environment, he’s had a lifetime fascination with what makes a record work. His deep
understanding is grounded in phenomenal virtuosity. (In addition to playing keys in
Butcher Brown he’s the long-time drummer in John D’earth’s band, Central Virginia’s
premiere straight-ahead jazz group.) Under the name DJ Harrison, he’s created a vast
catalog of hip hop beats. Jellowstone Records, his home studio, is a pivotal focus of the
vital Richmond music scene, with a growing reputation drawing big name visitors
including Nicholas Payton. (who recorded his 2014 record “Numbers” there with the
band.)DJ Harrison has just released his first solo album on Stonethrow, titled:
Harris calls bassist Andrew Randazzo the band’s navigator. “He’s the cool one, the calm
one. He’s the mortar, binding together the rhythmic and harmonic side of the music.
Both onstage and off, he holds everything together and makes everything go smoothly.
And he is an amazing player.” In the band’s funk-inflected music, the foundation is
foreground; the bass as much a lead as a rhythm instrument.
Drummer Corey Fonville is pure explosive energy. “He’s always ready for battle,” Harris
says. “A huge, controlling factor in our sound.” A percussion prodigy turned international
jazz sideman, Fonville’s national performance career when he was just 14, with a 2005
appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. In the years since Fonville’s taken his
propulsive energy around the world, touring with jazz stars like Christian Scott and
Nicholas Payton. He’s the beating heart of Butcher Brown, pumping out fresh,
danceable rhythmic complexities are aimed at both the brain and the hips.
Having started playing music in elementary school, and coming from a family of
musicians, you could almost say that guitarist Morgan Burrs was destined to lead a life
of music.. Picking up the guitar, only 6 years ago, he’s become a force on RVA’s music
scene. While in high school, he was awarded full tuition scholarships to go up to Boston
and study at Berklee College of Music’s 5 week summer program, which played a key
role in Morgan deciding to get a degree in Music. He’s currently a junior at Virginia
Commonwealth University (VCU) studying jazz guitar.
A Richmond native, Marcus Tenney started his musical career at the age of 11. After
winning the Louis Armstrong Award in 2003, he began studying trumpet with Dr. Rex
Richardson, world-renowned trumpeter and former Joe Henderson sideman at Virginia
Commonwealth University. In 2007, Marcus placed third in the National Trumpet
Competition. Marcus has played/worked/recorded with artists such as Nicholas Payton,
Butcher Brown, Billy Williams, Braxton Cook, Count Bass D, Bon Iver, Matthew E.
White, Natalie Prass and many more.
Their recordings to date, the polished soul/funk of “All Purpose Music [Ropeadope] and
the 20-track underground groove-laden beats cassette “GrownFolk” provide two great
windows into the band’s charms. And the controlled collision of all of these talents
makes Butcher Brown a fun band to watch.
Dedicated to innovation, informed by a love of the past, its modernistic fusion is aptly
described as “hip hop Mahavishnu.” Impressive as they are individually, together they
are something increasingly rare: a real band, playing for their audience and for each
other, on the verge of a brilliant future.

$26.00 - $31.00


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