Recommended by: Nicholas Salas-Harris, artistic director of PDX Jazz
“Portland is having a refreshing moment is hasn’t seen in maybe 40 years. Instead of the endless parade of rock, indie rock and jambands, the energy in the scene appears to be coalescing around a group of very talented young musicians playing jazz, funk and soul inspired “groove music,” with leaders of the pack being Charlie, Cory and Peter from Greaterkind.”
Before the pandemic, Greaterkind was hard to miss.
Made up of keyboardist Charlie Brown III, drummer Cory Limuaco and guitarist Peter Knudsen, Greaterkind has backed up more than their fair share of musicians, from local Portland artists to national acts like Judith Hill and Brian Jackson. Before COVID-19 canceled shows, it seemed Greaterkind was on the bill for every other dive show and pub jam.
But after COVID-19 hit, their music became hard to find. Though Greaterkind is arguably Portland’s most understated yet exciting jazz fusion group, the trio has released only two songs, meaning the entirety of their material is just under five minutes long.
Now, in the final stages of the pandemic, the band is finally ready to take center stage with music of their own. Later this month, Greaterkind will finally drop its second EP, El Corazon.
“We’re sitting on some music,” Knudsen says. “We’re like hens, we got eggs underneath us. And this egg is hot.”
The band started in 2015 at Dante’s now-defunct Dookie Jam monthly session. Knudsen, who was just getting his foot in the door of the Portland music scene at the time, remembers seeing a 17-year-old Brown lying on stage fast asleep. As a minor, the stage was the only part of the club Brown was allowed to be.
“I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’” Knudsen remembers. “Then he woke up and started playing, and I was like, ‘Oh, damn.’”
Brown and Limuaco met at Portland State University, where they formed their own group, Yo Daddy’s Funk. Eventually, through the serendipitous, collaborative nature of local music scenes, Brown, Limuaco and Knudsen began playing together.
Over the years, the trio has developed an almost telepathic connection onstage, much like how longtime friends start adopting each other’s vernacular. That deep understanding is largely what made their first and only EP possible during the pandemic.
The two-track Humphrey EP is straight-forward jazz with cushiony grooves and a modern bent. The appreciation for the genre’s tradition is apparent, yet it’s forward-facing. As Brown puts it, it’s less about complicated compositions than about creating an environment that surrounds the listener.
As with anything the group does, Humphrey is clearly the work of a tight-knit band. Surprisingly, though, the EP wasn’t recorded in a studio or even at the same place and time. It started with a solo drum form Limuaco sent to Brown and Knudsen, who later added the rest.
“Me and [Brown] were in our boxers in the morning and wrote those chords, one and done, eating cereal,” Knudsen says.
According to Limuaco, the final product was exactly what he imagined when he recorded the initial drum sequence.
“It’s our COVID baby,” Brown adds.
If Greaterkind’s work has a throughline, it’s an emphasis on community. The band also founded the label People Music, a collective of Portland-grown musicians. Through People Music, the band helps artists produce tracks, rolling out promo and designing packages, all funded by grants and personal investors.
To Brown, it’s a matter of leveling the playing field—he doesn’t want an artist’s vision being compromised by a lack of funding or access.
“If an artist has a vision or idea, we’re supporting that completely with any resources that we have,” Brown says. “It’s just like, ‘You know what? Fuck the industry.’”
The label has released nine projects so far, including the Humphrey EP, with members of the band playing on any track they and the artist feel could benefit. But lately, putting out more Greaterkind music has jumped in priority.
“With things opening back up,” says Limuaco, “and being in the same space on a regular basis, it’s really gonna push things forward for us.”