The quartet’s conservatory-trained members aren’t too hifalutin to enjoy a bit of lowbrow humour
Judging by the lumbering melodies and delicate instrumentation on Brasstronaut’s one would expect the Vancouver jazz quartet to engage the Straight in a sophisticated conversation about the classical tradition—or something equally as hifalutin—when we gather on the upscale patio of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s café. The fact that the group’s vocalist and pianist, Edo Van Breemen, whips out a hilarious impersonation of Sloth, the lovable man-ogre from the ’80s teen cult hit The Goonies, puts a different spin on things entirely.
So how does one naturally transition from Chester Copperpot and the gruesome Fratelli gang to an in-depth conversation about “crumbling cities, ancient forests, and stormy fjords”—the imagery that inspired Old World Lies? Awkwardly.
But the abrupt change of topic doesn’t seem to faze the accomplished group of formally trained musicians. Van Breemen and his bandmates—Bryan Davies on trumpet, Brennan Saul on drums, and John Walsh on bass—are far more low-key and down-to-earth than you’d expect of guys who were trained at prestigious conservatories in Canada and abroad.
“We’re not going for a specific image or going after a certain angle—we’re just being ourselves and going with the flow,” Van Breemen explains, offering a gentle hint to listeners—and to a certain writer, for that matter—to avoid making assumptions about the ensemble based on the sombre tone of its elegant music. “You can’t really delineate it [the band’s sound] as one sort of thing—”˜Okay, Brasstronaut is this.’
“There’s all these different influences that come in from all these directions,” Saul elaborates, before Walsh offers up his own perspective: “It’s not indie-jazz but jazz-indie.” Van Breemen then counters with yet another theory. “I just call it straight-up soul, because I think that’s what we’re doing. That’s why it’s so much fun to play with this band, because it’s really completely a genuine representation of our feelings and emotions through performance.”
Although the members of Brasstronaut could probably spend hours debating the roots of their fusion-based sound, the talented musicians prefer to talk about the satisfaction they receive from participating in such a creative project.
Davies explains: “I was getting really sick of playing all these jazz standards and really having to conform to the ideologies of a schooled musician. So when I met Edo, and we started jamming together, it was like a complete release for me for my inner musician. I just opened up and let it all go through the horn.”
Speaking on behalf of the rest of the outfit, Saul adds warmly: “Right when we got together—which was only about a year ago—the creativity that everybody had and the way we all came together musically and as friends”¦ It was amazing. It was just so easy to play music.”
This sentiment is echoed in the moody tapestry of meandering harmonies showcased on Old World Lies. Filled with a contemplative remorse, the notes of Brasstronaut’s haunting piano and mournful horn swirl around Van Breemen’s electrifying vocals on the record’s title track.
The epic, eight-minute soundscape “Insects” ramps up the melancholy with the addition of cascading strings, giving the group’s ensemble set-up an orchestral feel. Considering how effortlessly the album flows, one gets the impression the members of Brasstronaut are indeed—as Saul suggests—kindred spirits.
Issued by Unfamiliar Records—the New York label behind the latest album from Van Breemen’s indie-pop band, the Clips—the EP’s release is timed to coincide with the group’s showcase at Pop Montreal early next month. “There’s a lot of press going on right now for Brasstronaut,” Saul says proudly. “There’s a buzz going on, so we’re really excited to go out there and slay the east side.”
And while the festival—a legendary one, by Canadian standards—will mark the first time that the guys have played outside of Vancouver as a group, Van Breemen explains that Brasstronaut already has ambitious plans for more time on the road.
“A good strategy would be to go out to New York and Montreal and Toronto when we release our full-length and try to get a booking agent.” With so much touring on the horizon, one can’t help but wonder what other pop-culture impersonations Van Breemen will master while trapped for hours on end in the back of a van.
Brasstronaut plays its Old World Lies release party at the Biltmore Cabaret on Tuesday (September 23).