Those of us who spent our youths dreaming of somehow being involved in music for their job, whether as artist, DJ or journalist, probably had some ideas of what that life might look like.

But as George Bernard Shaw wrote, for most of us who actually end up working in the industry “there are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.”

The music business, sadly, as it turns out, is just like any other, with rampant egos running riot, unrealistic deadlines, mountains of admin and constant burnout coupled with the added anxiety of constant reminders that “loads of people would kill to be in your position.”

However, once in a while, things turn out just as magical as your 13-year-old self imagined them to be. Sometime last year, Peter Adarkwah, founder of BBE Music, a UK independent label I do some freelance work for, informed me that he’d signed a Brian Jackson album, for which he needed me to write the liner notes. There are very few artists who still retain mythical, almost superhuman status in our hearts as we enter the grind of adulthood, but, for me, Gil Scott-Heron is one. Gil’s raw, visceral poetry and unique delivery hit me like a lightening bolt from the first moment I heard “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” as a kid, and I became a lifelong fan. Brian Jackson was Gil’s writing partner throughout his golden era, collaborating on Pieces of a Man, Free Will and Midnight Band, supplying those iconic Rhodes piano and flute lines that made Gil’s music so extraordinary.

Those of you who are aware of BBE’s output will perhaps know that the label puts out a lot of reissues, so when I was informed that I was, in fact, to be working on brand new Brian Jackson album, my excitement reached fever pitch. Many of the songs on the new project This Is Brian Jackson were first penned and even demoed in the mid ’70s, but it wasn’t until 2018, when Brian met the Phenomenal Handclap Band’s Daniel Collás in New York, that things finally began to take shape. When I first heard the album, I was floored. The songwriting and musicianship that I fell in love with on Gil Scott-Heron’s output is, of course, all over this album. Hearing Jackson’s solo work now re-contextualizes those old albums I fell in love with back then. Now I hear Brian’s DNA all over them. I hear his phrasing, his pace, his soul. Collás provides a warm and truly sympathetic production aesthetic here: this is a man who feels Jackson’s musical intent and unselfishly facilitates it into something both contemporary and timeless.

While writing the album’s liner notes, I was able to interview Brian and Daniel together. Much of the interview ended up on the cutting room floor, but here it is, in full.

Photo by Nathalie Gordon

How did you two you meet?

Brian Jackson: At a performance at the club Nublu in the East Village, a mutual DJ friend of ours, Greg Caz, introduced us with the idea that we might be a good match to work together. I told Daniel that I was looking to record an album but I didn’t want to produce it myself, as I have in all my previous albums. Daniel said, “I think I could produce you.” I wasn’t sure why he thought that, but I considered it a challenge to find out. Turns out that he was right.

What did you discuss, if anything, in terms of the musical direction for this project, before you embarked?

Brian: Originally I had wanted to do a live recording of the material that I had been performing over the last few years, but there were problems with Gil’s estate that would’ve made it extremely difficult. Daniel had a different idea from the get-go. I had mentioned that I had begun work on a solo project around the time that Gil and I were recording Bridges in 1976. I even had a few unfinished tracks. The seed of Daniel’s concept centered around the question, “What would a Brian Jackson album sound like if the 21st century Brian were to complete that 1976 album today?”

What was the writing and recording process like for this album?

Brian: It took us about 11 months. I would Uber to Daniel’s studio in Williamsburg from my apartment in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn on an average of twice a week. We sketched out musical ideas, drank way too much coffee, consumed way too many tacos and sampled perhaps a few too many exotic whiskeys while talking about things important to both of us personally. The lyrics for the songs are a result of those conversations. I want to thank Morgan Phalen for his lyrical contributions as well. He and Daniel had written together in the past and the two of them reconnected for “Force of Will” and “All Talk.” Musically, we got a lot of support from my old friend, guitarist Binky Brice (Billy Ocean, Evelyn Champagne King, Will Downing), and the amazing Latin Grammy-winning flautist Domenica Fossati.

Daniel Collás: For the most part, it was Brian and me in my studio, discussing and writing and recording twice a week. Occasionally we’d have visitors or guests, like Victor Brown (Brian’s cohort from the Midnight Band) or my friend Ben who was frequently in town from London. After a while, we would begin the sessions at McOndo, the Mexican restaurant on the corner, which we eventually named a song after.

Can you give me any more info on the other players on the album?

Daniel: I’ve come to think of Binky Brice as Brian’s right-hand man. They’ve been playing together for years and have this great chemistry, especially in the studio. I first met him as the bassist in Brian’s live trio, but he’s also an incredible guitarist and a legend in his own right, having played on sessions with Mtume, Billy Ocean, and Roy Ayers, to name only three. He plays either bass or guitar (occasionally both) on the whole record.

Moussa Fadera is a good friend of mine from Stockholm and one of my favorite drummers in the world. He happened to be in town on tour, so it was kind of a no-brainer to get him on the record. He played on “All Talk” and “Mami Wata.”

“What would a Brian Jackson album sound like if the 21st century Brian were to complete that 1976 album today?”

I know Caito Sanchez from the scene here in New York. He’s one of a very few drummers who can play disco and soul music with equal fire and authority. After seeing him backing the late Charles Bradley, I recommended him to Brian for his live trio. Caito played on “Nomad” and “C’est Cette Comète.”

Some of the other musicians who contributed to the record are Domenica from Underground System who played alto flute on “Mami Wata” and “Path to Macondo,” my bandmates in Phenomenal Handclap Band, Juliet and Monika, who sang on “Mami Wata” and “Force of Will,” and my old buddy Ben Romans-Hopcraft who helped write “C’est Cette Comète.” For that session, we came straight from the corner Mexican place and just jammed, Brian on piano and Moog, me on drums, and Ben on bass. The song came together pretty quickly.

What does this project mean to you, on a personal level, now it’s being released?

Brian: I’ve never considered myself to be a singer. I would have never recorded an album where I sing on all but two of the songs, but Daniel pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and I’m happy that I did. In many ways this album has been nearly fifty years in the making. I don’t think I was ready to release it before now, but now that I have, I am very proud of the results.

Brian, how aware of Daniel and his previous work were you before you began working on this project?

Brian: I didn’t know that I knew some of Daniel’s work until my wife connected the dots for me with his Phenomenal Handclap Band song, “15 To 20,” which was a hit that she and her friends all knew well in France and one that I had heard here in the States as well. And then I began to listen to some of his explorations into Brazilian music — I’m a huge fan of Brazilian grooves and I dug what he had done. I also discovered that he had produced Joe Bataan’s latest album, which I had excitedly checked out when it hit! I’ve since become a huge fan of PHB and am bugging Daniel regularly about letting me do some work with them!

Brian Jackson, photo by Gary Price
Brian Jackson, photo by Gary Price

Daniel, when did you first become aware of Brian Jackson and his music? Please mention any favourite albums / songs and talk about what they mean to you.

Daniel: In the mid-’90s, after my first real trip to London, a friend played me “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” A few days later, the same friend played me a tape recording of the live version of “The Bottle” (which I realized many years later was from It’s Your World), and I distinctly remember hearing the “Brian Jackson on flute” part and thinking, “What, he plays flute, too? Who is this guy?!” At that time I was becoming obsessed with the flute but had yet to meet a single player. At best, it was usually just saxophone players who would switch over to flute to play a ballad or something. Of course, it’s not that strange for a piano player to also play flute, but at that time, it had never occurred to me as a possibility.

Anyway, from that point on, Brian and Gil Scott-Heron’s music was a constant in my life. But those records were never particularly easy for me to find, so I never knew the albums as much as I knew individual songs, which would kind of appear on a mixtape, like “It’s Your World,” or float out of a neighbor’s window, like “Pieces of a Man.” They were easily recognizable as the works of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, even though I had never heard them previously. Both of those songs had a huge influence and impact on my life. And after I saw Gil do a spoken word version of “Show Bizness” in the late-’90s, I was prompted to buy the rarely discussed Secrets album, which is how I found “Angel Dust,” another big song for me.



This was originally published in #Expansion: 5 Mag Issue #198 with Louie Vega, Brian Jackson, Beretta Music and more. Support 5 Mag by becoming a member for as little as $1 per issue.



Sumsuch: That was the end of the interview. I can happily report that, in-line with my teenage dreams, Brian Jackson turned out to be everything I’d hoped he’d be, both as an interview subject and as a human being: kind, generous, humble, funny, razor-sharp… One of those rare people that makes you feel like you’re the only person in the world when they speak to you.

Oh, and just to put a bow on the story and offer a little insider gossip… As part of Brian’s release on BBE, Peter Adarkwah connected him with Louie Vega, who has remixed the album’s closing track “Little Orphan Boy” alongside Josh Milan under their “Two Soul Fusion” moniker. The exact release date for the remix isn’t confirmed at the time of writing, but I have it on very good authority that Jackson and Vega have already been in touch about further collaborations in the future… You heard it here first!

This Is Brian Jackson is out now. This Is Brian Jackson: Instrumentals was released on June 24, 2022.

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