The lush, jazz-fused beatnik platter that is Portrait Of A Groove rushes at you from a crew named Bluezeum, a collective of smooth professional musicians headed by a kid from the Southern Californian spoken word circuit, Adwin (pronounced ah-dween) Brown.
The radio-friendly single, Can I Get That Funk, is simply one hip-hop thread in the fabric which makes up Portrait Of A Groove. It’s an album of subtle jazz beats and twisting, turning lyricism. Most of the words are spoken, Brown combining every now and then with guest soul-sister vocalist Vann Johnson to croon a little, but mostly it’s the freestyle babble of this very cool cat.
Bluezeum was initially the brainchild of renown producer Rick Hahn, whose afterthought of adding some spoken word to his still sketchy acid jazz compositions turned out to be a stroke of genius. Enter LA poet Adwin Brown – a Southern Cal performer whose usual beat was solo upon a stage.
“Man, it’s a big spoken word community in LA and Southern Cal and it keeps getting more and more exposure. It’s vibin’ man.
“Primarily I got my start in LA, in a little village where all the artists and poets hang out. Then I got into doing shows at universities and colleges, eventually putting together a band called Peace And Fire to put music to my poetry. The thing is I like A Cappella stuff and I love doing work with music, it forms an atmosphere, a base that I get to dance upon lyrically.”
It’s this mix of music, word play and how the band came together which signals in the start of the album, the title track Portrait Of A Groove: Flowetry, it’s jazzoetry/ Koology, it’s vibeology/ Be still and knowetry, it just iz/ The pen is a brush the paper a pallete/ Only a fool would paint with a mallet. “The tape I was handed was very nebulus, very raw, very simple, all the musicians you hear on the album hadn’t come on board yet,” he says of his first contact with Hahn and the Bluezeum project. “I had only this sparce musical foundation, which was cool, ’cause I then had a lot of room to dance, a lot of room to create, and since it’s called Bluezeum I had a lot of room to paint. The music was a canvas for me.”
“Portrait Of A Groove is how we started out. It’s taken on a life of it’s own, just like those words, it’s organically evolved into this spoken word and acid jazz concept. Now we’re just anxious to get some live
sounds out there.”
Brown’s backing is certainly a seasoned group of individuals. With Rick Hahn there is also George Benson and Chick Corea collaborator (pianist/composer) David Witham and (drummer) Gary Novak, Frank Zappa collaborators (bassist) Jay Anderson and (instrumentalist) Albert Wing, plus Michael Thompson, Walt Flower, Andy Martin and Stan Sargeant. With all this musical firepower the words still plow loudly over the top of their subtle jazz floorshow, a musical highlight being the seven minute improvised instrumental to finish the album, Soundscape.
“You know, the commercial arena is just now taking a look at it. It’s like ‘wha’s that noise over there? Oh wow, Bluezeum, wha’s that?’ It doesn’t quite fit into any of their formats, but they’re saying ‘man, it’s good’. It’s making some noise.”
And the jazz purists? “Man, they love it! I’ve talked to a lot of cats – mainstream, old skool jazz cats, straight ahead jazz cats – and the constant feedback I get is ‘hey, this is a great project, how the hell
did you get in with this crew?”
Highly influenced by Herbie Hancock, his approach, his imagination, Brown treats the stage as his personal performance pit, blending spoken word with vocalisations and dance movement. So is Adwin Brown from Bluezeum likely to breathe fire like KISS? Or hang upside down from the rafters like Mike Patten? “Yeah, nothin’ like that man. My words are my fire. I might burn my tongue doin’ something like that (laughs). I think the words and my language are hot enough for me.
“And man, you’d better come and see me just by myself, spoutin’ words down at a dive. ‘Cause that’s where the pulse is. You go those places that arn’t on the map and you get the pulse of the people. It’s where I get that pulse and check out what the people are really saying.”