Brandon Coleman Quartet Returns to Columbus

Cincinnati-based guitarist and composer Brandon Coleman is bringing his quartet back to Columbus for a show at Dick’s Den on Sunday, February 22nd at 9pm. The group also features Keigo Hirakawa on piano, Matt Wiles on bass, and Jeff Mellott on drums. Sunday will be the third show of a four-day tour that also takes the group to Cleveland and Dayton before the Monday finale in Cincinnati. I have personally enjoyed Coleman’s 2013 debut Quartet release, Decisions, and the group’s appearance at the 2014 Jazz & Ribs Fest was one of my favorite sets of the year, so I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I was glad to have the chance to have a phone conversation with Coleman recently, where he shared details on the group’s new album as well as touring and other projects:

What can you tell me about your new album, Infinite Loop?

Brandon Coleman (BC): We’ve been working on the tunes – we’ve had a collection of newer tunes for the group since the latest formation started playing. I moved to Cincinnati two years ago, and the group has been playing together as a quartet for probably about one and a half years. Matt Wiles, Jeff Mellott and I played as a trio pretty much right when I moved here, and I met Keigo Hirakawa, our piano player, through the Jam of the Week website. He lives in Dayton, and I thought he was an incredible pianist and really enjoyed his sound, so I invited him to play, and that became the new quartet.

The new tunes are a lot different than the first album I put out, mainly because I wrote some of the material without having a band in mind, which was a different process. Usually I write specifically for the players that I’m playing with, having their sound in my head as I write, which was really what was going on when I wrote the first album. But for the second one I had three or four of the tunes kind of written, which were more swinging, more traditional jazz tunes, but once I started playing with the guys, and getting more of a feel for their language, and how we play together, the other half of this material is more suited for their particular idioms of playing. So it’s about half and half: tunes that we try to get in there as much as we can on, together; and there’s longer form tunes where we play off of each others’ voices. So it’s kind of a mix and match kind of thing. I’m pretty excited about it.

All of the tunes are originals, except for one cover tune that we actually did at the Columbus Jazz & Ribs Fest. It’s a J-pop (Japanese pop) song. I have a drummer friend who is really obsessed with Japanese culture who sent me this crazy J-pop song. It’s called Transparent, by a band called Capsule, and it’s really just a pop dance tune. It’s not really the strongest tune, form-wise, but the chords struck me right away like “Man, I wish pop music over here had this kind of sound!” It seemed like a great vehicle for us to play on, so I made an arrangement of it, and it’s going to be on the album.

We’re looking at a May release date right now. It may get pushed back further, depending on funding, but we’re hoping for mid-May.

What can you tell me about the show at Dick’s Den?

BC: It’s gonna be a good time, because it’s right in the middle of the tour – we’ll play two shows before it, so we’ll be warmed up and looking to get adventurous with it. The last time we played Dick’s Den, the vibe of the room was so cool that it just makes us feel super comfortable and we can really stretch out in there. I really like that.

What would you say excites you about this lineup of your band?

BC: It’s pretty intense. Both groups [his old quartet in Louisville and his current group] play very well together, and we listen to each other. But the dynamic of the material is the polar opposite. The last quartet had more of this ECM [Records] vibe, where we were playing at this softer level, listening to each other and playing these quiet moments together. But now, this group of players is very intense and builds up very quickly. It’s like, say, Jan Garbarek versus the new Wayne Shorter Quartet. The intensity of where we go is much more aggressive, which is cool and fun, especially for a guitar player. I get to bring out the ol’ rock stuff in my playing, which is fun.

Everybody’s pushing each other to a higher level. We rehearse regularly every week, and we’re always coming up with new ideas on how to approach different things in tunes, so they take new shapes every time we play them, which is pretty exciting. We all push each other soloistically as well, because everybody has such different languages when it comes to soloing. Plus, Matt Wiles is fun to watch! It’s a really fun group of guys to play with.

Beyond the album release, do you have any other goals for the band in 2015 and the future?

BC: We’re trying to expand our radius of where we go and play. We want to really engage Ohio as much as possible. I feel like there’s a lot going on in terms of original music and different places to play in the state, which is awesome. Columbus has a great handful of places to play. Cincinnati’s building back up after we lost the [Blue] Wisp, there’s a few places taking its place. The Bop Stop in Cleveland, BLU Jazz+ in Akron… We’ve got a tour planned in May as well – we’re going to do the Bop Stop and we’re playing in Zanesville, actually, at a little brewery, Weasel Boy, which is a fun gig. We stopped there on the last tour we did – we did a masterclass at West Virginia University, and on the way back we did this gig in Zanesville. I never even knew about it being a place to play jazz, but I’m good friends with the guys in this fusion band from Chicago, Marvin, and they played there a few times. They hipped me to it – it’s a good spot, and people love the music. They have good beer and pizza, and they pay us well, so we’ll keep going there! When we hit them up, they’re open to it, they enjoyed our music, and they want to have us back.

I really want to push this album further than I did the last one, just going all in, so we’re trying to plan out further tours. We’ve applied for a lot of festivals this summer, hoping for some of the bigger ones. Really trying to get bigger tours planned out – we’re gonna try to go to New York at some point, later this year. Keigo’s got some connections in Japan, so we’re hoping to take it over there too. We’ll see what happens. We’re all about doing as much as we can, so we’re just going to go for it.

I understand that you sometimes play with saxophonist J.D. Allen?

BC: Yeah, I’ve played with him, and we’ve done some projects together. He’s in and out of Cincinnati, so he’s not around too much, because he gigs so much in New York and overseas. But when he’s in town, we’ve gotten together a couple of times, and played some of each other’s tunes. We have an on-and-off group called Gamma, which is a pretty interesting group. It leans on the freer side of jazz – we both contribute compositions to it and it’s pretty exciting, because he’s a very incredible player, and he’s played with a lot of great players, and he has a lot of history in his playing too. It’s pretty fun and inspirational to get to play with him.

We haven’t recorded anything officially – I did record a couple gigs we did. We did a nice show in Louisville at this space called Dreamlands, which is a spot for avant garde music. We had a really good time. I got a video recording of that, which I’ll probably put online at some point in the future, if his agent is cool with it. We do plan on recording that group, once we get some more time to rehearse it and develop it more. It’s definitely an open thing, but we want to develop the group communication more and see where it goes.

Who would you say are your biggest influences?

BC: There’s so many, so it’s hard, but some of my biggest influences right now in playing and sound are some great Euro guitar players, like Lage Lund and Gilad Hekselman. It’s the way they compose, it seems more than just writing down a short jazz tune and seeing who can play it. It’s very intricate, and takes time, which I really admire, just the amount that they put into their music. I try to absorb as much of that as I can. In terms of older players, I’m a really big Jimmy Raney fan, I really enjoy his playing. I like Lennie Tristano, he’s another huge influence, along with Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz.

One really huge influence on my playing, who we get to play with on tour at our date in Dayton at Gilly’s, is alto saxophonist Jacob Duncan. He’s a Louisville guy, but he’s played with all kinds of great people, like Ari Hoenig, Norah Jones, and Aretha Franklin. He has a great group called Liberation Prophesy, which is kind of a progressive jazz maelstrom, in Louisville. When I was a young jazz guy going to Morehead for my undergrad, me and some of the guys would make the trek on a weeknight to see his trio play in Louisville. We’d drive two and a half hours to see his trio in Louisville, and he’d be cool enough to give us a lesson, and let us stay in his basement. We’d have to wake up at 5 in the morning to make it back for class. We did it for months, because he was such a great player and a good person to be around. I think he really influenced and shaped the way I look at music, and what it means to be a jazz musician, which is a lot more than what you learn in school. He’s a real “truth” player, so it’s really exciting to get to play with him, in addition to the quartet. That’ll be really fun.

Where has been your favorite place to play so far?

BC: Oh man, there’s been so many good ones. In terms of just having a good time, and a good venue where everything is super cool, Dick’s Den is one of the coolest places we’ve ever been, and I’m not just saying that. It really is a cool spot, and we feel at home when we play there. We had a great time at the Ribs Fest when we play, just because it’s nice to have that professionally-run of a gig. As such a young band, it was nice to get that experience. In terms of just myself playing, I had a great time a couple years ago when I had the pleasure of going to Ecuador and doing some masterclasses and playing there. I had a blast, and I’d love to take the quartet down there in the future to do the same thing. The people down there just appreciate it so much, and not a lot of jazz comes through there, so they’re all about it, and they want to know more about it. So I think that would be a really cool experience to take this band on, because I had a great time and it’s beautiful down there too.

Is there anything else you’d want to add for people thinking about coming to your show?

BC: We’re planning on having download cards for people who come out, so they can get some free MP3s as our way of saying thanks. It’ll be a preview EP featuring some of the tunes on the upcoming album. That’ll be a little bonus to get people to come out.

Sunday’s show should be great, but if you can’t make it out, keep in mind that the Quartet already has another date planned: a Jazz Wednesday appearance at Brothers Drake on Wednesday, March 25th at 8pm. Here’s a new video from the quartet’s appearance at the 2014 Jazz & Ribs Fest, featuring a favorite from Decisions:

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