Kevin "Brandino" Brandon brings jazz to SMC
Students and fans of jazz at Santa Monica College honored a special musical guest on Friday, March 25th at The Edye Second Space in the Performing Arts Center. Kevin "Brandino" Brandon is what one would call a musician's musician. An accomplished and respected bassist who began playing from the age of nine, he has been an instrumental figure in some of the most critically acclaimed pop albums of recent years; albums like Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds have earned Brandon five out of the seven Grammys currently under his belt. Brandon has worked closely with renowned artists and groups like Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Richard Ashcroft and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
The Kevin Brandon Quintet played two inspiring sets in the intimate Edye Second Space. Playing with Brandon's five string double bass were Kamasi Washington on tenor saxophone, William Artope on trumpet, Roy McCurdy on drums and Andy Langham on piano. They have been playing together since February, 2011.
As the musicians took their places, Kevin, who limps due to "congenital club feet and a hip displacement," according to his website, approached a microphone set to about his kneecap. "I know I'm short—but I ain't that short!" he said. After a quick adjustment from stage crew, he said, "Hello. My name is Brandino, and these are my friends."
Musically, the show was a medley of sounds from different eras of jazz and popular music. The Quintet began with "Instrumental Hip-Hop," by Ryan Porter and "I Can't Help It," by Michael Jackson. The men quickly showcased their skills to the audience. Artope and Washington are both highly skilled horn players, and their trumpet and saxophone were a delight. Each of the musicians, particularly Brandon and McCurdy, are prodigious soloists, who can run through chord changes with blazing fast speed.
The highlights of the evening had to be their tributes to the revolutionary jazz styles of bebop and modal jazz. Playing "Where is the World Going?" an original composition by Brandon, and Sonny Rollins' "Oleo," the men jammed exceptionally. Each man resonated with flashes of sounds reminiscent of bebop legends of the past; names like Davis, Coltrane, Roach and Mingus come to mind. The atmosphere was akin to a 50s jam session at the famous Birdland. Nothing felt forced, but rather fluid and relaxed. With each solo, the audience broke into spontaneous applause.
To expand the musical horizons of the show, Mr. Brandon also called onto the stage DJ Teddy Loc and a dancer from China named Dava Liu. For what could be described as a brief interlude between two songs, they put on a small hip hop show with Liu break dancing and Brandon's bass playing in top form.
Kevin Brandon's Quintet is proof that jazz is not a dead art form, but still very much alive and exploring new boundaries. Nelly Melamed, a 19 year old Music 33 student said, "This is the first time I've ever seen a live jazz show, and I really liked it!" Similarly, Sean Park, 25 years old and from the same class as Melamed said, "I've never been to this kind of a concert, but this was incredible."
Brandon, who has family roots in New Orleans, has been a lifelong fan of jazz. He described his first significant musical experience. "I saw Louis Armstrong when I was 4 years old," he said. "Jazz is in my DNA. It's self expression without boundaries."