I first encountered Jefrey Leighton Brown a few years back when he was working as the repair guru at Old Town Music. My amp was busted and a friend referred me to Brown as competent, knowledgeable, and friendly—all of which he turned out to be. At the time, I was unaware of his impressive technical pedigree, including a stint building audiophile-beloved Budda Amps. I was also unaware that he is a musical genius.
I didn't see Brown for several years thereafter, and when I did, I wasn't sure it was him. This was at last year's PDX Pop Now! Festival, when I was floored by Evolutionary Jass Band's transcendentally beautiful set. As he was packing up, I approached the saxophonist who seemed to be the leader of the genre-crossing, unpretentious jazz ensemble to tell him how impressed I was. I hesitated momentarily, slowly recognizing Brown's face, but before I could say anything, he smiled, and said hello to me. By name. That's the kind of guy Brown is—he remembered the name of someone he helped while plying his trade in a service job two years prior.
Brown applies this same sensibility to music making. His approach is detail oriented and populist, even when playing in baggage-laden idioms often considered unapproachable, as with experimental collective Jackie-O Motherfucker, of which Brown was a key member. Likewise with Evolutionary Jass Band. Jazz may have been pop music 50 years ago, but not now. Yet, somehow, Brown changes that.Nowhere is his aptitude for making the difficult effortlessly likeable clearer than on Brown's solo debut, Change Has Got to Come!, recently released by local label Community Library. Brown recorded the album in his basement in one week in 2003, accompanied by a few friends. Evolutionary Jass Band was having troubles, and he was bored. Brown elaborated, "Boredom can be your best friend if you don't view it as a negative thing. I was bored with deciphering music. I prefer '20s–'60s pop music to today's, because it's so in your face and vulnerable. I really have a hard time understanding what people dig today, most of it lacks warmth and soul to me."
That a homemade album recorded on a cheap reel-to-reel sounds this good is amazing, but then again, the electronically proficient Brown built his own preamps. The sonic character of the record is a perfect match for its six compositions, which run a gamut of styles, from small-ensemble jazz instrumentals recalling early-'60s Coltrane, to the title track's vocal-driven, blistering, classic R&B slow burn. Neither of these genres is contemporary, but Brown approaches both with a sincere, inclusive love that feels anything but backward looking.
Many of these songs have been adopted by Evolutionary Jass Band, whom I urge you to see perform soon. Or if your amp is busted, head to Brown's own shop, Leighton Audio (3624 N Mississippi). He donates 10 percent of his profits to charity. That's the kind of guy he is.