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Otis Brown III: The Thought of You

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Drummer Otis Brown III, best known as a member of Joe Lovano’s Us Five, percolates with nervous energy on The Thought of You, his debut as a leader. Even on midtempo tunes like “Stages of Thought,” no easing or rests are apparent in his lines, and burners like the three-part title suite find him leaping frantically ahead of the beat and chomping through his fills.

Brown’s adrenaline doesn’t exhaust, though; it excites, not least because his bandmates push back. Pianist Robert Glasper, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, saxophonist John Ellis and bassist Ben Williams refuse to let his stamina overwhelm their beauty. Beats may propel the matrimonial “The Two Become One (for Paula),” but it’s the lyrical melody, played by Harrold and Ellis (overdubbed on tenor sax and bass clarinet) that penetrates, and Glasper’s shimmering piano and Rhodes that set the mood. The opener, “The Way (Truth & Life),” begins with an infectious, powerfully built Williams ostinato; Glasper and Brown soon join, but the former’s gorgeous (and faintly gospel-ized) signature chords put the latter’s clang and punch into the background.

Glasper is often the one to temper Brown’s steel. His gently rolling bed on Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” (with a scintillating Gretchen Parlato vocal) coats a snare-drum attack that champs at the bit, and Brown’s kick drum ultimately shadows Glasper’s tender, churchy phrases on the moving “I Am Your Song” (guest-starring organist Shedrick Mitchell, guitarist Nir Felder and gospel singer Nikki Ross). Their chemistry electrifies-a point illustrated on the album’s quick coda “Interlude II: Life,” where both players are deliberately overamplified. The Thought of You absolutely vibrates with possibility.

Originally Published