Without a doubt, drummer Otis Brown III is narrowing the divide that keeps jazz segregated from mainstream (read: marketable) recordings. Brown’s terrific debut, The Thought Of You, is a collaborative production from Revive Music and Blue Note and it’s a winner as fitting a release on the classic Blue Note label as anything they released in the ‘60s. The innovative drummer’s facility and outsized talent was already apparent backing Joe Lovano’s Us Five band, Terence Blanchard and Oliver Lake over the last few years.
The album is enjoyably entertaining and feels unselfconscious. It essentially means that his percussion and beats underpin his compositions rather than dominate. Even the gospel melody performed by Nikki Ross fuses reverence with diva soul power. There’s a powerful singular drive throughout (the bass is pleasingly amped up), yet the compositions are as strong and confident as the musicians that play them – distinctive pianist Robert Glasper, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, saxophonist John Ellis and bassist Ben Williams whose tight, beefy notes steer the propulsive frontline horns on “The Way-Truth and Life.” Mixing hearty originals (“Stages Of Thought” is a groove-textured wonder) with wholly unexpected covers (Shania Twain’s “Still The One” is breathlessly sung by Gretchen Parlato), Brown, along with co-producer Derrick Hodge, gives The Thought Of You a kinetic energy with a jazz/pop sheen that bears witness to a promising and significant artist. (11 tracks; 56 minutes)