The cover of his new “digital 45” Thanks for waiting saxophonist shows Brandon Lee Cierley outside his childhood home in Spanaway, Washington. Now based in Portland, Oregon, Cierley’s pandemic-imposed wait to pursue his fledgling career is over and he’s excited about his musical future.
KNKX has followed Cierley’s progress since his days in the progressive jazz ensemble born at Pacific Lutheran University 322 to modern sounds more influenced by hip-hop which he has been perfecting in the pink city in recent years. The two new songs from Thanks for waiting are in this musical style, and both feature Cierley’s longtime friend and mentor Cook Braxton on a second saxophone.
Cook is a virtuoso alto saxophonist, but also a talented singer and songwriter who has built his own sound. His music is a fresh, modern take on the traditions of jazz, soul and R&B. Cook has played with young stars like Christian Scott, Marquis Hill and Jon Batiste, with a focus on his own recordings and tours in recent years.
Cierley is a lifelong fan and has called Cook a friend and mentor for the past five years. “It’s very humbling that he saw my growth as a musician and was able to take some time out of his busy schedule to be a part of it,” Cierley said in an interview. Cook’s recent move to Los Angeles from the East Coast brings the two together and suggests this won’t be their last collaboration.
“For the Homies” lays down a soulful, throbbing hi-hat beat with shimmering keyboards before Cierley and Cook enter together on their horns. A thick beat takes over and your head can’t help but move to the relaxed beat. Cierley is also joined here by his friends, Portland bassist yukgod and key player Johnny Tobin of Vancouver, British Columbia.
The melody is direct and strong, a hook you might imagine supporting your favorite MC. Jazz wins though, as each player takes a lyrical solo where a hip-hop fan might expect lyrics. At just two minutes, “For the Homies” is a concise statement and heartfelt display of musical friendship.
The sound of a tape recorder pressing “play” introduces the second slow jam song, “Heartstrings”. Like an instrumental break from a hip-hop mixtape, the song inspires a sweet vibe and more than a hint of romance. Cierley and Cook combine saxophones and soloing impressively, and the Portland trumpet star Farnell Newton contributes to the coloring of the whole underlined by a clever lo-fi production.
“Heartstrings” could have had another life as a backdrop for a rap song, but like “For the Homies”, it’s the essence of jazz that comes through. With these new collaborations with Cook, Cierley opens a door to jazz for hip-hop lovers everywhere.
Based in Portland but keeping his Tacoma ties strong, Cierley made an impressive appearance earlier this year on his friend Peter Adamsalbum Refuge. However, he finds a lot of inspiration in his new hometown.
Cierley received a regional arts and culture council Grant “Making Learn to Build” to produce his second full-length jazz album, and he is crowdfunding to cover all project costs. Seattle favorites Martin Budde, Dylan Hayes and Xavier Lecouturier will be guest contributors on guitar, keyboards and drums.
Cierley has deep ties to KNKX, and we’ll share news of his upcoming recordings and gigs in Western Washington as soon as we hear.