“My dad was in law school at (Northern Kentucky University law college) Chase when I was 1 to 3 years old,” Coleman says. “No crazy memories other than eating Skyline, which I still love.”
Aside from the chili monkey, it was Cincinnati’s music scene that kept Coleman and his wife here when she completed her graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Just after arriving, Coleman met pianist Keigo Hirakawa, bassist Matt Wiles and Us, Today drummer Jeff Mellott, the band that helped him realize his astonishing third album, the just-released Infinite Loop.
“I’d been in Cincinnati about four months and was still traveling to Louisville to gig because I didn’t know anybody here,” says Coleman, who earned a Masters of Music degree from the University of Louisville in 2013. “I ran into somebody on the street with a saxophone and I was like, ‘Hey, you know where the Jazz is in town?’ And he was like, ‘Jam sessions at Stanley’s Pub.’ I met Matt and Jeff at Stanley’s on a Monday; we played and instantly clicked. We even started a Prog band called Zvezda that did a few things around town. Through the magic of the internet, I saw Keigo, who lives in Dayton. He’d posted videos of him playing John Coltrane in different time signatures with each hand and I was like, ‘That’s the guy.’ I texted him and asked if he’d be interested in playing some of my tunes and he loved it. The band was born.”
Infinite Loop is an inventively powerful blend of traditional Jazz modalities and Fusion/Prog elements that incorporate Coleman’s broad spectrum of influence. The discussion of his inspirations becomes a checklist of some of music’s greatest talents, including Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin.
“Those guys influenced me at some point, and I love Frank Zappa, he’s right up there,” Coleman says. “Going back to my introduction to Jazz, the guitar player that blew me away was Scott Henderson of (Prog/Fusion band) Tribal Tech. One of my dad’s friends was like, ‘Oh, your son’s starting to listen to Jazz? Give him this.’ I was really into Prog, so the shreddy aspect of it appealed to me. And I’ve always been into the avant/progressive side. My music is a little more pretty, but I like experimental texture, so I got into Nels Cline, Henry Kaiser, Bill Frisell, Fred Frith. I think that gave me an experimental twist to how I write. Then I got into guys who are into melodic Jazz, like Pat Metheny and modern players like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Lage Lund and Mike Moreno. I love non-Jazz guitar players, too. If it’s good music, I love it.”
Coleman’s new album represents a substantial departure from 2009’s one-man Science Project and his debut group recording, 2013’s Decisions. The latter was completed quickly with friends from the University of Louisville, whereas Infinite Loop was more rehearsed and deliberate, performed by an actual working band. And his full-metal Harry Partch side emerges on the track “Engram,” where Coleman added frets to his guitar with twist ties, doubling the notes in each octave and further manipulating his sound with programming to have the synthesizer mimic his guitar. Infinite Loop, which Coleman considers to be more of an artistic statement, shows how he has evolved as a composer, performer and improviser while also showcasing his quartet’s chemistry.
“Jeff plays great Jazz, but with Us, Today, he’s doing the whole Prog realm, which I’m totally into,” Coleman says. “Matt is such an intuitive bass player, and Keigo is a genius engineering professor — when he plays you can see the gears turning. These guys have their own styles, but they’re able to trust each other, like trapeze artists making sure we catch each other and get to the other side.”
Infinite Loop was nearly a double album due to the volume of material that Coleman brought to the band. Ultimately, he narrowed his focus to hone in on what he was attempting to say with this collection of songs.
“I probably have — this isn’t an exaggeration — like 2,500 compositions,” Coleman says. “A lot gets tossed, but we keep the ones that are unique and we think we can expand upon. With this album, we recorded so much, but at the end I was like, ‘This family of tunes fits together really well.’ ”
The fact that Coleman is a Jazz musician at all is sheer providence. Growing up in Pikeville, Ky. wasn’t a natural first step toward his eventual musical direction, but some breaks provided him the impetus to explore. The biggest presence was his grandfather, a self-taught, Chet-Atkins-thumb-picking guitarist who showed Coleman the basics. Infinite Loop is dedicated to him.
In addition to working around Cincinnati, Coleman and his cohorts make frequent trips to New York, which began after striking up a friendship with guitarist Peter Mazza. Coleman notes that the differences between the scenes is largely a matter of expectation.
“We get up there every three months,” he says. “People are different and the same everywhere, but in New York, it’s a given that wherever you go, whoever you’re going to see, it’s good. People know they’re getting into some music, so they don’t go in with the preconception ‘Who is this guy?’ (In Cincinnati), you have to fight for your audience a little more. But I’ve seen more people seeking (Jazz) out because there are more options, and the community’s becoming stronger.”
Coleman’s adaptability is exemplified by the fact that he easily shifts between trio and quartet formats and sets, depending on the availability of Hirakawa, who is increasingly busy with his own trio after releasing an album last year.
“Out of necessity, we were like, ‘Let’s play some trio gigs; it would be good for us to do,’ ” Coleman says. “We ended up getting gigs in New York where we had to play trio because of the size of the room. We started playing more Jazz standards and then slowly added a few of my originals. But like the great piano trio records, like Bill Evans, Kenny Kirkland or Brad Mehldau, they’re taking standards and playing them in their own style. That was the main influence — to see how far we could push these old tunes.”
For more on BRANDON COLEMAN, visit brandoncoleman-music.com.