There is always something good under the surface of any seemingly played-out genre, but the trouble is finding experts to guide us. In Portland, chefs like Andy Ricker worked hard to convince you that pad thai isn't the only Thai food worth eating, and Barra Brown and the Wishermen are working to convince you that jazz isn't just elevator music.
"Telling people we are a jazz ensemble is almost the worst thing we can do, unfortunately," Brown says. "If we tell people we play jazz, they have a very specific idea of what that is."
Formed at the Alan Jones Academy of Music in 2010, originally as a quintet with sax and trumpet, the Wishermen came together out of a mutual love for contemporary jazz drummers and jazz-influenced beatmakers like Flying Lotus. The group has evolved much since then—dropping the horns almost entirely on its new EP, EPoch—to the point that Brown says he's been trying to make the initial release "disappear, because it sounds so different."
Barra says the Wishermen aim to go beyond what listeners might expect of the jazz genre. "We're using electronic sounds, we don't swing," he says. They don't play typical, head-solo-head jazz standards either. Instead, they are following in the footsteps of artists such as Thundercat, Christian Scott, Mark Guiliana and Kneebody, taking jazz training, harmony and rhythmic theory and using it to make beat-heavy art music that doesn't require the listener to have a conservatory degree to penetrate. In a way, the Wishermen sound as much like an instrumental hip-hop band—a role they have actually taken on for local rappers—as a contemporary jazz group.
For Brown, who spent 2014 playing in more bands than seems humanly possible—Old Wave, Barra Brown Quintet, Shook Twins, Alameda and Morning Ritual, among many others—the Wishermen exist to push boundaries. The group's ultimate desire, though, is to make people feel something about jazz, one way or another. Says Brown: "I think that, with any art, you should either really love it or really hate it.â
SEE IT: The Wisherman play Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta St., with Two Planets and Kulululu, on Friday, Jan. 9. 8 pm. $7. 21+.