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Saxophonist, singer Braxton Cook visits Seattle with new album

Braxton Cook's new album coincides with his concert in Seattle March 12
Braxton Cook
Braxton Cook's new album coincides with his concert in Seattle March 12

Asking a question of himself in the title of his new album Who Are You When No One Is Watching?, Braxton Cook is completely himself artistically and personally these days. On March 12, you'll find Cook and his band performing at Madame Lou's in Seattle.

A popular bandmate of modern jazz trumpeters Chief Adjuah and Marquis Hill, appearing with both in KNKX studio sessions, this new album makes clear that Cook has plenty to say himself.

The voice of this artist is also clear, a uniquely soulful and slightly melancholic sound that Cook has been developing for more than a dozen years since emerging as the hot young saxophonist on the Washington, D.C. jazz scene. His sound further developed in the clubs of New York City, but Cook ultimately relocated closer to his wife's family in California.

"Los Angeles has afforded me incredible opportunities in the songwriting and production world," Cook told KNKX. He recently collaborated with his producer friend Jahaan Sweet on a song for pop star Taylor Swift.

Catching up with Cook on his way to Seattle, he described his sound as constantly evolving. Cook called his music "nostalgic, emotive, introspective, transparent, romantic, cinematic, aspirational, honest, rooted, empowering and Black." It's all there on Who Are You When No One Is Watching?

"I want the sonics of my records to have a nostalgic quality but also create a path for the future in the ways that it blends many genres together," Cook explained.

"Ultimately, I want my albums to serve as a snapshot in time that depicts my life, who I am, what I value and all my musical influences on record."

Pictured on the album's cover, Cook said his "family is everything." He said his wife is a huge inspiration for his songwriting.

Cook noted that fatherhood changed his writing of love songs, giving the music a more profound meaning. In turn, he also reflected on his own upbringing.

"I have such an appreciation for my parents," he said. "To raise four Black men to live full and dynamic lives is a blessing and, quite frankly, a statistical anomaly where my family comes from."

Cook honored his parents by placing "bits of our in-depth conversations" in interludes between songs to bring the listener closer to the man making the music.

Though sometimes romantic, much of the new album's lyrical content explores the ongoing societal struggles of Black Americans. With the lead track "MB (For Ma'Khia Bryant)" — a 16-year-old shot and killed by a police officer — Cook sheds light on the institutional violence that affects both men and women.

"Black men, black women, Black trans people and our entire community need each other in order to finally be free," Cook said.

In his interview, and this new album, Cook successfully captured a snapshot of this moment in time.

A powerful saxophone sound is contrasted by Cook's softer, soulful vocal delivery and both sides of the artist compliment the other. The album's guest vocalists Masego and Orlando Watson both fit perfectly with the cool vibe, and the trumpet solo by Marquis Hill is rich and warm.

But don't overlook the contributions of Cook's own band on Who Are You When No One Is Watching? Guitarist Andrew Renfroe and pianist Paul Cornish are confident in support and take advantage of solo space, while Joshua Crumbly and Jonathan Pinson create deceptively intricate rhythms.

The band plays without keyboards at Madame Lou's Sunday, while Curtis Nowosad will take Pinson's place behind the drums. Cook said touring will continue throughout the year but not all at once, to "maximize breaks with the family."

The New Cool is giving away pair of tickets to the show Sunday, March 12 in Seattle. Listen to the show Friday night at 9 p.m. PT on KNKX to find out how to win!

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.