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Published: 2011/03/08
by Brian Robbins

Jahman Brahman


Describing Jahman Brahman’s sound as “Phishy” is the coward’s way out of talking about the band. Not that it wouldn’t be accurate: many of the 11 cuts on Jahman Brahman’s debut album NewFields have as many happy/quirky twists and turns as “You Enjoy Myself” on a good night. (Speaking of “YEM”, do you hear little threads of the main verse riff woven through Jahman Brahman’s “Working Design”? Or maybe it’s “Wolfman’s Brother” … except when the funk gives way to the cool reggae drift and – oh, never mind. It’s all good.)

The point is, likening the JB boys to Phish would be like comparing classic Zen Tricksters stuff to the Dead. Yep – you can hear it, but at the same time, there’s somethin’ happenin’ here

The five-member band isn’t scared to take chances, but the results are offered up with the sort of maturity not usually found on a debut album. There’s a fearlessness to Jahman Brahman’s songwriting and arrangements that never feels at all like “Hey – look at us being clever over here!” at all. NewFields sounds like a band that’s aware of their power and sound as a whole and works hard to let the vibe thrive without letting it get away from them.

Take the album-opening “Life”, for example: by the time you’re a couple minutes into the thing, the rhythm has shifted gears four or five times, easing from cool head-bop-down-the-sidewalk to a happy, upbeat skank which begins to pick up speed until it takes off into a full-throttle variation of the opening moments before spiraling around into a flurry of funk riffs that give way to a cool guitar-and-piano jam – all seamless and natural in a manner that’s well-executed without feeling like the soul has been thought right out of it.

Or consider “Orange Station Loop”: a “Cumberland Blues”-style charge out of the hole leads the way into a magic place where Johnny Cash fronts the Mothers of Invention. The beat morphs from workboot stomp to blues-rock grind with a jam that develops into what might’ve happened if Alvin Lee and Ten Years After had stretched “I’d Love To Change The World” a little further out.

Drummer Rowdy Keelor and bassist Nathan Brown prove themselves to be fearless rhythm space explorers, leading the way through the rhythmical twists and turns of the tunes on NewFields like a psychedelic Lewis & Clark. (Give those lads a couple of tie-dyed coonskin caps.) Keyboardist Joshua Loffer is the bridge between the Keelor/Brown machine and the frontline guitars, providing everything from moments of piano grandeur to swirls of organ that’s simply wild-ass sonic color. Sure, you can hear bits of Trey in lead picker Casey Chanatry’s playing at times – but there are also Santana-ish moments, bursts of Steve Howe, and a melodic sense that recalls Dickey Betts at the height of his powers. Justin Brown (glad you’re paying attention: yes, he’s Nathan’s brother) not only does some masterful six-string weaving with Chanatry, but handles the bulk of the vocals in a style that embodies the Jahman Brahman upbeat vibe. (This is what the voice of a Jahman Brahman is supposed to sound like.)

Good vibes, smart, imaginative songwriting, and monster playing – all laid down in an ego-free fly zone. And this is Jahman Brahman’s debut album?

Well, all right.

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