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"This is the end of the century, and a lot of music has gone down," Brian Lynch said several years ago. "I think that to be a straight-ahead jazz musician now means drawing on a wider variety of things than 30 or 40 years ago. Not to play a little bit of this or a little bit of that, but to blend everything together into something that sounds good. It doesn't sound like pastiche or shifting styles; it's people with a lot of knowledge."
Few musicians embody this 21st century credo as profoundly as the 48-year-old trumpet master. A respected insider within both the hardcore bebop and Latin communities, he's as comfortable negotiating the complexities of clave with Afro-Caribbean pioneer Eddie Palmieri as swinging through advanced harmony with bebop maestro Phil Woods. He's worked in recent years with Buena Vista Social Club alumnus Barbarito Torres, dance remixer Joe Clausell, and the members of the influential Latin alternative group Yerba Buena. He arranges for Japanese pop star Mika Nakashima and producer Shinichi Osawa, has written string charts for Phil Woods, and has played with such pop luminaries as Maxwell, Prince, and Sheila E.
Born September 12, 1956 in Urbana, Illinois, Lynch grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he apprenticed on a high level with such local residents as pianist Buddy Montgomery and organist Melvin Rhyne, while earning a degree from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Located in San Diego in 1980-81, he gained further valuable experience in the group of alto master Charles McPherson.
Towards the end of 1981, Lynch moved to New York, and soon linked up with the Horace Silver Quintet (1982-1985) and the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra (1982-1988). Simultaneously, he played and recorded on the Latin scene with salsa bandleader Angel Canales (1982-83) and legendary cantante Hector LaVoe (1983-87). He began his association with Eddie Palmieri in 1987, and at the end of 1988 joined what turned out to be the final edition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He began his association with Phil Woods in 1992, and also worked frequently with Benny Golson around this time.
In 1986, Lynch recorded his first album as a leader, Peer Pressure, for Criss-Cross. There followed Back Room Blues and At The Main Event [Criss-Cross], In Process [Ken], Keep Your Circle Small [Sharp Nine]), and a string of sideman dates with Art Blakey and Phil Woods. On each, Lynch documented his fiery, coherent tonal personality. Whether limning a ballad or tearing through a searing bop structure, he projects a rich tone that ranges from warm to brilliant, uncoiling serpentine lines that land in the most surprising places.
He also made a name for himself as a composer, through numerous songs that play with and stretch harmony while never losing melodic essence and rhythmic thrust. In tunesmithing he's much influenced by former employer Horace Silver. "I look to get that clean sound that Horace's compositions have." he comments. "You can play complicated or simply on them, always with something that connects to the public." Art Blakey recognized Lynch's skills, and recorded originals like "Chippin' In," "Chandek's Den," "Byrdflight" and "Green Is Mean" on albums for Timeless, A&M, and In-n-Out.
A 1997 recording called Spheres of Influence [Sharp Nine], which earned a 4-1/2 star Downbeat review, was Lynch's first project to reflect the panoramic range of interests that influence his working life as a musician. During these years he documented cross-cultural investigations with Eddie Palmieri's seminal Afro-Caribbean Jazz Octet on Arete, Palmas and Vortex [Nonesuch and RMM]. As the 90s progressed, he steadily refined his concept, eventually collaborating with Palmieri as an arranger, co-composer and musical director. In a rare gesture, Palmieri took advantage of Lynch's pen on the recent albums La Perfecta II and Ritmo Caliente [Concord Picante]. The synchronistic nature of their relationship will continue in 2005, when Palmieri collaborates with Lynch on his ambitious project for Artists Share.
Lynch has continued to advance the Spheres of Influence concept, gathering around him a repertory company of top-shelf Pan-American oriented musicians. These include drummers Dafnis Prieto, Horacio Hernandez, Robby Ameen, and Ernesto Simpson; percussionists Richie Flores, Pedro Martinez and Roberto Quintero; pianists Luis Perdomo, Edsel Gomez, and David Kikoski; bassists John Benitez, Ruben Rodriguez, and Hans Glawischnig; and saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Yosvany Terry.
The fruits of his work in this area are now becoming apparent through a remarkable series of recordings.
On Conrad Herwig's The Latin Side Of Miles Davis [Half Note] and on Que Viva Coltrane [Criss-Cross], a Herwig-Lynch collaboration, Lynch reharmonizes tunes like "Freddie Freeloader," "Miles Mode," "Wise One" and "Straight Street," fluently navigating the changes over dynamic guaguanco, songo, bolero and timba beats.
Joined by tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen and pianist Luis Perdomo, he addresses his own compositions similarly on an upcoming 2005 Criss Cross date entitled Jazz Con Clave. Also, in 2005, EWE, a Japanese label, will release Lynch's piece de resistance; a commissioned six-part composition for nonet entitled the "Spheres of Influence Suite."
On Fuchsia/Red, a live date from 2003, Lynch presented, in the words of critic Russ Musto in All About Jazz, "an electric Miles-inspired excursion conceived and executed with such assurance as to create a whole new perspective on Lynch's artistry." Musto added: The music is alternately earthy, spacey, pretty, funky and swinging and often, just like Lynch, all of these things at once."
But don't think Lynch has forgotten about his roots. That he's evolved into a major postbop stylist is apparent on 2000's Tribute To The Trumpet Masters [Sharp-9], an instant classic on which Lynch, blending superlative technique with deep soul, pays forward-thinking homage to trumpet lineage spanning Dizzy Gillespie to Woody Shaw. Brian Lynch Meets Bill Charlap [Sharp-9] is a nuanced, interactive 2003 collaboration with the renowned pianist, a long-time Woods bandmate. "It's the kind of standard fareballads, bebop and bluesthat is often lackluster in the hands of lesser bands, but brings out the best in these masterful musicians," wrote Russ Musto in All About Jazz.
Lynch also documents his touring units of recent vintage on forthcoming recitals of mainstream repertoire in quintet with Miguel Zenon [24/7, Nagel-Heyer] and in quartet with pianist Rob Schneiderman [Further Arrivals, Zoo't].
Seeking to share his knowledge with others and to keep in touch with the fundamentals of his art, Lynch has turned increasingly to teaching in recent years. He currently holds faculty positions at New York University and the North Netherlands Conservatory, has taught at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, and has conducted workshops in numerous major institutes of learning, including The Eastman School of Music, Dartmouth University, the University of North Texas, and Columbia University, among many others. Many of today's finest young jazz trumpeters call him a mentor. Brian is proud, but it works both ways: the interchange of ideas between he and the "youngbloods" challenges him to keep it real and keep practicing!
Lynch's creative efflorescence since the millennium bears out the truth of a remark he made several years in the liner notes for the Spheres of Influence album.
After crediting Palmieri and Art Blakey as the Alpha and Omega of his musical thinking, Lynch stated: "Eddie inspired me to want to do my own thing, because that's what he does, and how he energizes and leads the band. And being a Messenger is something that will never be taken away from me. I can see Art sitting up there saying, 'You've got to go on and be a leader.' It's easy to be a sideman; it's very hard to be a leader. Now I'm ready."