Starting in the fifth grade, Maurice Brown showed talent. The nephew of blues guitarist Bobby Slim James, Mobetta grew up taking in a wide range of influences both in performance and production. Mobetta sat down with The Revivalist for an extensive interview covering his thoughts about music today and the influence of the man he sees as one of the main authorities in music, Miles Davis.
Talk to me about The Maurice Brown Effect, what is it in your own words?
Well, first of all, my touring band. We just came off of a European tour with the new album The Cycle of Love. It’s basically like a traditional quintet with drums, bass, piano, trumpet, sax. I use the word “Effect” more because I felt like that’s what we were giving at the shows; that people were leaving the shows and were feeling the essence of what I was playing through my music. So I felt that “Effect” was a better name than “Quintet.” We’re a mixture of jazz, hip-hop, soul, and R&B. That’s where we’re coming from.
Where are the influences for the Maurice Brown Effect coming from; is it pretty far ranging?
Well, I think that one reason The Maurice Brown Effect is so clear to me is because I’m also a producer, so I produce a lot. I produce hip-hop tracks, I score films, I see the big picture going into the project. With The Effect, one thing I wanted to do was break all the stereotypes of jazz and what people think they might know because they saw something on TV. I just want to get them the modern day jazz musicians, which we are, just get them the full spectrum of what we do. Miles is definitely my biggest influence though. And I would say that because I really like his use of space and also his approach to fingering his horn, the melody. He always gives the listener something to hold onto and that’s one thing that I really love about Miles. Another thing is that he’s always constantly evolving with the times. He never sounded stale. So no matter what the environment, it was just Miles. He just did his thing over it, and it was always consistent. It’s something that I definitely strive for in my playing.
Seeing as it is the 40th Anniversary of Bitches Brew, talk to me about it from a producing standpoint, there were so many innovations compositionally using tape edits and stuff like that, what’d you think of it?
I’m definitely a big fan of Bitches Brew. I like the whole concept; I like the way they pieced it together, I like how they were taking different sections and putting them together. I have another band too called T.B.A. that I play with, To Be Announced. So that’s kind of where we’re coming from as well; we’re making all this spontaneous improvisation on the spot and trying to capture these moments. Basically what Miles did was capture those moments and put them together to create a masterpiece.
He brought in all these great musicians of the time. Today, you don’t see that happening as much; some tour together, but there aren’t as many artists of that caliber coming together to collaborate on a full album. What do you think about that?
I think that is probably one of the issues with the jazz scene today, collaborations. It doesn’t happen that much in the jazz scene anymore, it’s cliquey. It’s like, these cats play with these cats and those cats play on that scene. But if you check out the hip-hop scene or the pop scene, it’s all collaboration. That’s what they’re doing. I think it’s a great thing to collaborate, especially to put it down on wax.
What about Doo-Bop, it was hugely influential as far as jazz and hip-hop go, but it also received mixed reviews from both sides?
Well, I think it was definitely a big milestone for jazz music because especially straight ahead jazz police I guess – the guys that are going out and making sure everything is kosher and straight ahead – they’re kind of hard to convince sometimes. So when Miles did that, I think it took a lot of courage. Right now in jazz, people want to play the same stuff over and over. You go to clubs and cats are still playing the same tunes and that is like the opposite of what Miles was about. He was always bout keeping it moving, making it fresh and integrating different styles together and picking up his influence from hip-hop and from rock, you know, Jimi Hendrix and all this stuff. You definitely can feel all that when he was approaching the music. I feel like that’s the way to be man…it’s like the only way to be actually. You have to be open and you have to embrace what’s going on around you so you can stay current. The only way to stay current is to talk to the people and the only way to talk to the people is to talk to something that’s relevant to them.
What do you think about the persona of Miles?
He definitely was a man of mystery, you know, you could definitely get that from him. But the main thing I get from Miles, I don’t know of a nice way to say it, but he really just didn’t give a fuck. He didn’t care what people thought about what he was doing. If you’re really going to be true to yourself and really get to that space where you want to go, uncharted territory, that’s the way you’ve got to be. You can’t be worried about what people are going to say and how they’re going to take you. Just do you. And that’s exactly what Miles Davis did, he did him.
Where do you see the intersection of jazz and hip-hop starting?
Well, you have Gang Starr with Guru, you’ve got Buckshot LeFonque that really opened stuff up, Russell Gunn did some things too with his ethnomusicology. But I feel like where we’re going now, that the next level of doing this is going to have to be some kind of seamless integration of both genres where everyone’s happy, where the beat is hard enough and everyone’s doing it. But also, in the guts of the song, you’re getting the all the melody, all the harmony, the jazz. That’s what I’m striving for right now. I feel like that’s what we’re getting closer to every day, melting the line and blending the genres.
Aside from yourself, who do you see doing that successfully?
There’s a lot of people, like Robert Glasper, he does a lot of that, blending it. It’s kind of weird because that’s where we’re at right now. That’s everyone’s thing, you know. The thing is, a lot of people are feeling the hip-hop and the jazz movement and they want to be down with it, and they want to get in it, but they’re not in the core of it. So if you’re not in the core of hip-hop, then there’s no way you can truly represent hip-hop jazz. It’s just like if you’re not in the core of jazz, you can’t represent jazz. It’s funny, because there are a lot of people out here who, I’m not trying to come down on people, but they’re perpetrating. They’re like, “Oh, we’re hip-hop jazz people xyz,” and I’m like, well name your ten favorite hip-hop records, or name the best MC’s, or whatever. Spit me some lyrics, spit me something so that I know that you know what you’re talking about; because if we were talking about jazz, you’d be like [hums a Bird tune]. You know, spit me some Biggie. It’s real though, it’s all about swag. If you’ve got that swag for what you’re doing, and you’re delivering it with the confidence where like this is what it is, and it’s so clear that if someone else hears it they go, “I don’t even play horn, but if I was to play horn, that’s how I would play it.” That’s what it is. You got to come in and you got to lay it down. You can’t be playing around; you have to execute because you’re going for people’s senses. You’re trying to touch something inside of them.
How did you get into the core of hip-hop?
First of all, it was something that I wanted to do. It wasn’t something that I fell into like I hear a lot of people saying. It’s very calculated. I sat back and I was like, I got to get in this scene, this hip-hop scene, you know. And the first thing I thought to myself was, “How do I do this?” You just ask them. My response was, “Ok, what can you bring to the table that these guys all want? I can play the horn, so I can do horn arrangements!” I started calling it “hornification.” I was like yeah, you need some hornification? That’s what I do. Next thing I know sessions are coming in more and more and they start calling up. That’s what it is. “If you need horns, call up Mobetta, he’ll hook you up.” I went at the producers, that was my first step, because the producers are with the artists. I started going in the studio and doing more stuff for like Wyclef Jean and Jerry Wonder, you know, all these producers man. I was just collaborating with all these great musicians and producers, and they kind of respected my ear and where I was coming from; we have this collective kind of process with this music. I’ve just been getting more and more opportunities; I actually have some tracks coming up on Talib Kweli’s new album, so that’s going to be cool. I’m on that and I actually got to work with S1, he’s another producer. He did “Power” for Kanye. I’ve been doing a lot of horn arranging for different projects like I got some stuff on the Cee Lo album, the Musiq Soulchild album, De La Soul, John Legend. Everything we touch, we just want it to have love in it, you know, because that’s what it’s about. You’ve got to feel the love in the music. After I started doing that, I was with the guys already, so we got to talking and I could be like, “Oh yeah, I’m musical director for this artist on Atlantic Records, I have some tracks.” Just really networking, once you’re in, you’re in. But it’s definitely hard to get that first step, especially if you’re going in trying to get something from people, you got to bring something to the table.
If Miles were alive today, who could you see him collaborating with?
If Miles were alive today, I could see him doing something pretty sick with Cee Lo Green. I’m trying to think of people who think outside of the box, but still are mainstream enough, because he would definitely be on some mainstream stuff, something big. Hopefully he’d be collaborating with me! [laughs]. That would be hot. So let’s say Cee Lo Green and…Questlove. Also possibly Kanye, I think, because I know that Kanye would really love to work with Miles. He thinks he’s like Miles Davis already so…But Kanye is a very talented individual, his music and he’s a great rapper, great producer. I have nothing bad to say about Kanye West, his production or any of that stuff. I’m feelin’ it. I’m down with good music, this is my family. Kanye has his hands in so many different projects and he has so many people working with him doing tracks and all kinds of stuff. I really admire his work ethic. He went to Hawaii and just locked himself out there for months, got the album done. That’s great. And he’s from Chicago and I’m from Chicago. Chi-town!
Anything else you want to cover?
I’m just happy to be making music man. It’s big man, I’ve got big things happening right now and I feel like I’m kind of in the center of all of it. I said it the other day, I was tweeting it, I feel like the energy of the city is running through my veins. I feel like, every time I step outside, I’ve got my horn, and I’m carrying the whole scene on my back. Let’s go! Jazz is not dead, we got Miles, we’re right here, we strong, let’s go! That’s my thing. When I go out, I’m so energized that it’s infectious. It crawls up to the band at first and then everybody else gets hyped. I give 110% every time I step on that stage; this music is what I do, it’s the life I chose. I’m happy, I love it.
Track: “Merry Go Round” off Maurice’s latest release The Cycle of Love
Visit Mobetta Online: www.mauricebrown.net
Hear Maurice play at the Jazz Standard this Wednesday 12/8 @ 7:30 PM or 9:30 PM
Interview by Eric Sandler