Three Times Two
Michael Brothers Jazz Trio
By Kabir Sehgal
Acclaimed drummer and percussionist Michael Brothers is a man on the move. He isn’t satisfied resting on his considerable success: a career which spans four decades in which he has performed with just about everyone from Gladys Knight to Liberace. He also played in over 6,600 performances of the musical The Phantom of the Opera. And Brothers has performed in just about every format, from symphony orchestra to big band. No, this maestro isn’t finished.
When you hear Three Times Two, you realize that Maestro Brothers is just getting started.
A jubilant and joyful experience, this album delivers on every level: the grooves are locked in, the accompaniments are well-placed, and the solos are ever-climbing and triumphant. That Brothers has put this album out at this point of his storied career suggests that his search and striving for sparkling performances continues unabated.
“Life in the Fast Lane” is the classic Eagles hit that became the genesis for this album. Brothers and his colleagues Andy Nevala (piano) and Jeff Carswell (bass) were working together in Jupiter, Florida in the summer of 2014 and started fooling around with this song on a rehearsal break. After changing the groove to a New Orleans street-beat feel, they knew they had something and recording an album was inevitable. In this performance, Carswell locks in with a trenchant bass riff. The piano lines are at the right time — and at the right place.
“Perfect Love… Gone Wrong” begins with a haunting and probing keyboard motif on this String tune. During the same summer of 2014, Brothers and Nevala were listening to this song in the car and discussed the idea of this tune in a trio format. And once again, it provided terrific grist for this album.
“Find My Way to Love” is a piece by the Atlanta-based band Jaspects. Nevala’s opening is beautiful and lyrical. Brothers plays the drums as if he is painting, infusing cymbal splashes with color and hues. His performance gives the piece a kaleidoscope feeling, as you hear not only the forward-train of the rhythm but a whirling palette of shimmers and shades.
“Daily Life” and “Ireland” are Nevala’s original compositions. The first is about the ups and downs of being a jazz educator – and you can hear the back and forth of the melody as it builds into a feeling of liberation. The second is about Nevala’s stepdaughter who he considers an inspiration. There was initial resistance regarding the relationship, but they’ve managed to turn it into something rewarding and beautiful.
“Passarim” is a vintage work by Antonio Carlos Jobim that is rarely played. Brothers readily admits this tune took some work, as the trio spent the most amount of time recording and setting it before agreeing upon the final version. On this tune we hear the elegant performance of Chris Kozak on bass paired with Nevala and Brothers. Together they sound like classic 1970s/80s recordings of the Brazilian trio Azymuth.
“Rose N’ Thorn” is a pure ballad by Teena Marie, an R&B vocalist who passed away in 2010. Brothers has long “admired her powerful voice but also her ability sing ballads,” he says. “She was a huge fan of Sarah Vaughn and that admiration always came through on her ballads.” Though this piece is typically performed in 4/4, the trio delivers a searing and rousing rendition in a slow 6/8.
The last tune “Dania” is originally by Jaco Pastorious, the late genius bassist. Carswell delivers a terrific performance and, in turn, an homage to the composer. The piece evolves seamlessly and finally ends with a grooving montuno.
Three Times Two is every bit as entertaining as a triumph of musical virtuosity. Brothers and his trio deliver a commanding performance that will leave you nodding with admiration.
Kabir Sehgal is a Multi-Grammy and Latin Grammy Award Winning Producer and New York Times bestselling author.