Ever since the debut of Norman Brown’s critically acclaimed 2002 album, Just Chillin’ – which won a GRAMMY® in the prestigious Best Pop Instrumental Category – this innovative and original guitarist has been front and center in the fast evolving fusion of pop, R&B and jazz that has captured the imagination of true music aficionados across the country and around the world.
On 24/7, Brown teams up with saxophone master Gerald Albright, whose high-profile recordings have established the Los Angeles-based musician as one of the most prominent artists and a true “musicians' musician.” Whether he is playing contemporary or straight-ahead jazz, Albright stands in a class all by himself. His 2010 release, Pushing The Envelope, received a GRAMMY® nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
“The title is reflective of the commitment that both of us have made in terms of our instruments,” Albright says. “Even when we sleep we’re thinking about melodies, recordings, concerts and whatever we’re going to do next. 24/7 also speaks to the camaraderie between us. I first met Norman back in the ’80s, when we would play together at a club in Redlands, CA. Other musicians would stop by, but I was always impressed with Norman’s playing. It was a lot of fun – but a challenge as well. We went our separate ways, but here we are now.”
Brown adds, “When we were recording the project, we didn’t have a lot of time – so we were working on it 24/7!”
24/7 spotlights Brown on lead and rhythm guitars, alongside Albright on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, flutes, bass guitar, electric wind instrument, percussion, programming and background vocals. The band for most of the recording alternates between keyboardist Tracy Carter, rhythm guitarist Rick Watford and drummer Jay Williams; and keyboardist Herman Jackson, bassist Byron Miller, drummer Charles Streeter and percussionist Ramon Ysalas.
The album opens with “In The Moment,” a pop instrumental gem that gives Albright’s horns and Brown’s guitar lots of breathing room. “This was one of the last tunes I wrote for the project,” Albright says. “I felt we needed something uptempo and funky. Later on, we decided it should go first. The tune was very spontaneous – it came to me ‘In the Moment.’”
Herman Jackson’s “Keep It Moving” sets the mood to kick back and enjoy the ride. “Herman and I have worked together for years,” says Brown. “He’s my production partner and has worked with me on all of my albums. When we were in the studio cutting tunes, Herman played me this track, and I felt it really fit the mood of the whole record.”
“Perfect Love,” another showcase for Brown’s trademark fluid playing and clean articulation, spotlights the guitarist’s daughter, Rochella, and godson, DeMille Cole-Heard, on lead vocals. “I just love the concept of love,” Brown says. “My music is always centered on some aspect of love, and that’s been a recurring theme in all of my compositions. The lyrics were written by Dr. Farid Zarif, a natural doctor who I’ve worked with on my diet and fitness, but he’s also a musician who’s worked with Stevie Wonder.”
On “Buenos Amigos,” Albright draws creative inspiration from American jazz percussionist Willie Bobo (1934-1983), one of the many legendary musicians with whom he has worked. “I’m really into Latin music,” Albright says. “There was a big time period when I played with Willie. He really schooled me on how to play Latin, and I wanted to reflect on those experiences. The title refers to my friendship with Norman.”
It was Brown’s idea to update “Tomorrow,” a mellow Brothers Johnson classic from 1976. “I like to give the audience something familiar, but with a twist,” says Brown. “I thought this track was perfect for Gerald and me. It fits the project completely.”
Brown’s “Yes, I Can” features an irresistible groove and a positive vibe. “I always like to find something energetic, funky and groovy,” he says. “This track started with the groove and came together quickly. The tag at the end just spoke to me” ‘Yes, I can,’ ‘Yes, I can.’”
Albright’s daughter, Selina, contributes her vocal skills to the well-polished and soulful title track (and later to “Champagne Life”). “Norman and I collectively decided on the title,” Albright says. “We went through several choices. Mark Wexler [Senior Vice President and Label Manager for Concord’s Jazz and Classics Group] encouraged us to pull out all the stops and employ the talents of our daughters. Selina actually wrote the lyrics. In my opinion, this is a classic Gerald Albright mid-tempo tune. I was even able to play bass and dig in with some orchestration.”
It was Albright’s decision to include “Champagne Life,” from singer Ne-Yo’s album Libra Scale. “When I first heard Ne-Yo’s version,” he says. “I thought, ‘this feels good,’ and this would also work as a nice tune for our summer concert dates! First and foremost, I love the tune. This was the first song I brought to Norman when we started the project.”
Brown co-wrote “The Best Is Yet To Come” with Jeanette Harris. “Jeanette is a young saxophonist,’ he says. “And I was producing her album. I wrote several tracks with her, and this was one of them. Later, I decided to use it on our record. There’s a throwback feel to it that reminds me of music from the days of CTI Records.”
24/7 closes with Albright’s laid back “Power Of Your Smile.” “A thick, orchestral ballad was the one thing that we didn’t have on the album,” Albright says. “I also wanted it to have a melody that people could sing – with a nice balance between the guitar and the saxophone. After all, there’s a camaraderie between Norman and me – we’ve been friends for three decades.”
“I’ve been a big fan of Gerald Albright since back in the day,” says Brown. “He’s one of the world’s premier saxophonists, and it’s an honor to work with such a great talent. That’s what makes this project so special.