Keith Brown and Nu Jazz Fourtet at Barley’s

Keith (keyboard) and Kenneth Brown (drums) of the Nu-Jazz Fourtet

One of the great things about having a few days without that little detail of a day job rearing its head is the opportunity to take in some late-night entertainment which might otherwise be sacrificed in the chase for the almighty dollar. I’ve missed several of those opportunities due to other obligations this holiday season, but I finally caught one of the 10:00 shows at Barley’s.

Barley’s shows are notorious for running behind schedule. The announced starting time seems to be more of a suggestion. I’ve also arrived for a 10:00 show that wound up starting at 10:30 and featuring an opening act I had not anticipated, making for an 11:30 start for the artist I came to see. It makes that hard decision about waiting for a second set after a “brief break” all the more perilous.

This past Monday night I took the walk into the Old City on a perfect winter night. The temperatures hovered in the upper thirties, there was no wind and the rain would not start until about twenty minutes after I returned home. People stirred in pockets, the city still not back to its usual frenetic pace.

Jamel Mitchell and Will Boyd with the Nu-Jazz Fourtet

Keith Brown and the Nu Jazz Fourtet took the stage promptly at 10:00. The band includes Keith L. Brown on piano, Kenneth Brown on drums, Clint Mullican on bass and Jamel Mitchell and Will Boyd on saxophone. The music moves afield from straight jazz with nods to R and B, funk and rock, but stays rooted in the jazz form. Unlike some phusion or nu-jazz music, this band does feature individual solos as does the more traditional jazz.

And in this case, that is a good thing. A very good thing. Each member of the band is extremely talented with their particular instrument and that was well displayed at Barley’s. I only wish more people there were focused on the music. There were probably a half-dozen to a dozen people carefully listening while others milled about drinking, laughing, flirting and otherwise having a good time talking over the music. I saw one young man transfixed by the music but accosted by a young lady with seemingly amorous intentions. He resisted as long as possible for the art, but in the end, well, she was cute and they left together.

The band was tight and some of the solos were amazing. Keith is a very accomplished pianist and band leader. I kept wondering as he took his turns in the spotlight how someone who knows jazz piano would compare his playing to his fathers, though they work somewhat different corners of the jazz world. Both saxophone players took some excellent turns and Clint and Kenneth lay a rock solid bottom to the music.

Keith Brown and the Nu-Jazz Fourtet, Barley’s, Knoxville

The set ended just after 11:00 and I took the pleasant walk home. As I walked I thought about the state of jazz in the city and it seems pretty healthy. I worried when the S and W closed last year that it might be a while before we recovered as they often featured great jazz with Donald Brown and others. It seems the Underground at Crown and Goose, Bella Luna and, on this night, Barley’s have stepped forward to give these great musicians a place to play.

The other thing I realized is that I’d be in bed by 11:30 having heard some great music. That isn’t really too late even for a work night, so I’m going to open my mind a bit to the later shows. If I still lived outside the city it might be less practical, but this seems doable given that by the time I would have been in my car before, I’m getting ready for bed. What about the rest of you guys? Could you go to bed a little late to get out and support some of these great players?