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Guillermo E. Brown - Shuffle Mode

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Artist: Guillermo E. Brown

Album: Shuffle Mode

Label: Cleveland Tapes

Review date: Feb. 25, 2010

Drummer Guillermo Brown evinces an admirably box-resistant philosophy toward music-making. With roots in free jazz (he was the first call replacement for Susie Ibarra in saxophonist David S. Ware’s quintet), he’s an accomplished performer on the conventional kit. Since that laudable tenure, he’s branched in drastically different directions, beginning with a 2002 solo debut on the Thirsty Ear label that advanced his burgeoning interest in electronics, hip hop and tape music. Eight years onward, Shuffle Mode, his fifth solo project, is even further removed from the free-jazz foundations he established a decade prior. Pulling in a complex array of influences and collaborators, it’s the musical equivalent of a mulligatawny stew. The nine download-only tracks hang together well enough as an album, even if Brown’s ambitious inclusiveness sometimes undermines the clarity and stability of the songs.

The opening cut “Hold U Now” echoes 1980s Prince in its confluence of densely layered beats, processed vocals and horns, and swirling keyboard effects. As with other pieces here, it carries something of a “kitchen sink” excess. “2 Much 2 Touch,” co-written by the up-and-coming Gordon Voidwell, weds a spoken verse ode to egotism with coarse, colliding beats that push the audio into the red. Mariachi-inflected horns and looping reggaeton breaks further sweeten the pot with some aggressively honking baritone from multireedist Cochemea Gastelum, but the song’s lyrics are laden with weak mixed metaphors (cf. “Too much to touch, too cold to hold / Like looking for Lucky Charms™ in pots of Fool’s Gold.”).

“Awkward Kitchen” flexes and founders on similar grounds. Pachinko electronics, watercolor keyboards and prominent drums set up a strong base, but when set to dry-toned bass clarinet, verses like the following hinder the whole: “By and by let’s get high / Let’s come together, make the right decision / Shuffle, shake and slide and twistin’ / I’ll keep repeatin’ ‘til somebody listens / Eat that chicken moisten glisten / Like cookin’ in your awkward kitchen / All night.” Elsewhere, the couplets, while emphatically delivered, come so fast and thick that they’re difficult to decipher amidst the surrounding striated din of ricocheting elements.

Something like a mash-up of Bjork and Outkast, “Disengage the Game” introduces vocalist Samita Sinha, trumpeter Omar Little (a Wire-loving alias?) and acoustic drums with a dancehall vibe. Hinging on a preachy empowerment rap backed by a humming monastic chorale, “Nobody But U” almost tips into Funkadelic parody, as Little’s heavily treated trumpet trills weave amidst undulating tendrils of processed guitar.

Brown posits good ideas and plenty of courage in pursuing his current musical course, but ultimately it feels like he’s still got a few more miles to go before he reaches that happy medium in bringing all of the voices into a fully cohesive whole.

By Derek Taylor

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