Saxophonist BrandonLee Cierley releases new modern jazz songs
The cover of his new "digital 45" Thank You for Waiting shows saxophonist BrandonLee Cierley in front of his childhood home in Spanaway, Washington. Now based in Portland, Oregon, Cierley's pandemic-imposed wait to continue his young career is over and he's excited about his musical future.
KNKX has followed Cierley's progress from his days in the Pacific Lutheran University-born progressive jazz ensemble 322 to the more hip-hop influenced modern sounds he's honed in the Rose City in recent years. The two new songs from Thank You for Waiting are in that musical style, and both feature Cierley's longtime friend and mentor Braxton Cook on a second saxophone.
Cook is a virtuoso alto saxophonist, but also a talented vocalist and songwriter who's built a sound of his own. His music is a fresh, modern look at the traditions of jazz, soul and R&B. Cook's played with young stars like Christian Scott, Marquis Hill and Jon Batiste, with an emphasis on his own recording and touring in recent years.
Cierley is a longtime fan, and has called Cook a friend and mentor for the past five years. "It is very humbling that he has seen my growth as a musician and could take some time out of his busy schedule to be a part of this," Cierley said in an interview. Cook's recent relocation to Los Angeles from the East Coast bring the two closer together and suggests this won't be their last collaboration.
"For the Homies" establishes a soulful, pulsing hi-hat rhythm with glistening keyboards before Cierley and Cook enter together on their horns. A thick beat takes over and your head can't help but bob to the relaxed tempo. Cierley is also joined here by his friends, Portland bassist Yukgod and keys player Jonny Tobin out of Vancouver, BC.
The melody is straight forward and strong, a hook you could imagine backing your favorite MC. Jazz wins though, as each player takes a lyrical solo where a hip-hop fan might expect lyrics. At just two minutes, "For the Homies" is a concise statement and heartfelt display of musical friendship.
The sound of a tape deck pressing "play" introduces the slow jam second song, "Heartstrings." Like an instrumental break on a hip-hop mixtape, the song inspires a mellow mood and more than a dash of romance. Cierley and Cook match saxophones and solo impressively, and Portland trumpet star Farnell Newton contributes ensemble coloring emphasized by smart lo-fi production.
"Heartstrings" could have had an alternate life as the background for a rap song, but like "For the Homies" it's jazz essence comes through. With these new collaborations with Cook, Cierley is opening a gateway to jazz for hip-hop lovers everywhere.
Portland-based but keeping his connections to Tacoma strong, Cierley made an impressive guest appearance earlier this year on his friend Peter Adams' album Refuge. He's finding plenty of inspiration, though, in his new hometown.
Cierley has received a Regional Arts and Culture Council "Make Learn Build" grant to produce his second full-length jazz album, and he's crowdfunding to cover the full costs of the project. Seattle favorites Martin Budde, Dylan Hayes and Xavier Lecouturier will be guest contributors on guitar, keyboards and drums.
Cierley has deep connections to KNKX, and we'll share news of his next recordings and concerts back home in Western Washington as soon as we hear it.