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Richmond drummer Brian Jones discusses his latest album, 'Kaleidoscopic Haze,' and meeting a hero

Brian Jones, a white man with a gray beard, stands in front of a wall and looks confidently at the camera. He is wearing a navy blue coat and a gray hat and scarf.
Brian Jones. Photo by Caroline Browder

Drummer and academic Brian Jones has been a major part of the Richmond jazz scene for decades, and he's played with jazz legends and pop stars alike. In addition to accepting a new position at South Carolina's Francis Marion University, he's celebrating the release of recent album, Kaleidoscopic Haze, and just hosted a curated show for the Spacebomb Records House Concert series.

Jones spoke to VPM Music shortly before the show.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

VPM Music: Let's start with the new album, because I know that release party from a couple weeks ago was a long time coming. Tell me more about Kaleidoscopic Haze.

Brian Jones: Well, I mean, that was sort of created as maybe an excuse to get myself together with Adam Hopkins, who is a bass player who had moved to Richmond. I hadn't had an opportunity to play with him. And Trey Pollard, who played guitar on the record. I've been working with him since the early 2000s on some level, in different bands. We were in a quartet together called Ombak, which was really Bryan Hooten’s band.

We’ve played at different places in Richmond, made a record, and so I've been playing with Trey for a long time. I had a had a quartet that was two electric guitars, and bass and drums that I wrote original music for. And so Trey and I have had a long relationship musically, and we were talking about trying to do something. And he mentioned Adam Hopkins, who had just come to town. Probably after that initial conversation, a year later, we finally got into Spacebomb Studios and made a little EP. But it was cut like right before the pandemic, so once we recorded it, it was kind of in limbo for a while trying to figure out what to do.

The band seemed to have an instant chemistry. I think there's a lot of shared experiences, even if it wasn't together, between the three of us in terms of the music we love and the music we like to play.

Kaleidoscopic Haze starts with this sort of tribute to Paul Motian, who I know is a bit of a big influence of yours. How has he affected your work on this album in particular?

Oh, well, you know, when I was writing a lot of the music, I had started my research for my dissertation on Paul. So at a certain point when I was in graduate school at William and Mary, in American Studies, I was trying to figure out what I was going to write about. I found out that Paul Motian's niece, her name is Cindy McGuirl, Cindy had created an archive of Paul's life and work up in Maine. And so I went up to visit it. And, you know, not only was there this incredible trove of rehearsal tapes, like the first time Paul was rehearsing with Bill Frizelle and Joe Lovano, to his trio with a saxophonist named Charles Brackeen and a bass player named David Eisenhower. There were rehearsal tapes from that work, you know, Paul had written like, 11 versions of his autobiography entitled Drum Music, it's still never been published. So there's just an incredible, incredible amount of stuff.

And then on top of it, Paul's story. He's an Armenian American, his parents survived. Paul sort of had this real ambivalent relationship with his Armenian-ness, if you will, but it was something that seemed to really inform him after doing research and looking through his personal writings and whatnot.

That's incredible that you had the opportunity to go to Maine and see all of that stuff. It's like, it's almost like you went on a pilgrimage or something.

Yeah, it was surreal. Basically what Cindy and her husband James did is, they built sort of a library, a small office library space where they have his record collection. They have his personal book collection. They have his computer, they have his dining room table as sort of, like, the main table where you can do work, and so it's pretty surreal.

You know, I did make a pilgrimage to go see him one time when I was in college. I went to the Vanguard Village Vanguard to see his trio with Lovano and Frisell because I'd never seen him play. I have a poster because I ripped it off the wall — during the set break, I saw that there was a poster advertising the week that they were playing at the Vanguard. I went up and put my back against the wall and pulled the poster down. I somehow had a Sharpie or a pen and went up to Paul on the set break. I said, “Excuse me, Mr. Motian, Do you mind signing my poster?” And at the time I didn't know Paul was a serious cat. You didn't really want to mess with him.

He looked at me. He looked at the poster, he looked back to me. He goes, “Hey, man, did you rip this off the ***** wall?” And I said, “I'm so sorry, Mr. Motian. But yes, I did. Yes, sorry.” And he looked at me, like with this total disdain, and he signed it, and handed it back to me like, “Man, I have to put up another one.” And he just walked away.

It was hilarious. I still have it. It's actually in the dissertation.

So let's spend a little bit of time on the Spacebomb concert, which you told me is probably your last original show in Richmond for a while. How is that headspace affecting you leading up to the performance?

You know, it's funny, I’d written a book of tunes, a group of songs that I wanted to make a record with a very specific group: Alan Parker on guitar, JC Kuhl on tenor saxophone, and Cameron Ralston on bass. We got together during the pandemic a couple times and read through these tunes in my basement. I mean, almost each of the House Concerts I've done at Spacebomb, I tried to have that band play, we just couldn't get everybody there in the same room just because of life and jobs and work and whatnot.

And so this one being sort of the last gig I have of playing my own music, I was like, “Man, I'd like to play those tunes, because I'd like to hear them live before I do go in to record them.” And unfortunately, Cameron can't be there. But Adam, who I’ve just recently made this real connection with over the last couple years. Cameron Ralston also is a great bass player, Spacebomb house musician, if you will. He played on a record we did, it's called Canis Lupus – we’ll probably play a few tunes a couple tunes from that record as well.

Anyway, excited. And plus, on the bill is Michael Hawkins and the Brotherhood, which is Billy Williams on drums, who's amazing. And Mike Hawkins plays bass. I've known him since I was probably 20.

In terms of this idea that's like the last gig, you know, I am going to teach down at Francis Marion University, and I'm very excited about it. But the reality is, I will be coming home on the weekends. The nature of the academic schedule, I mean, I'm going to be home in the summer, I'll be home for a month in the winter. We'll always be playing music here in some shape or form. I have so many incredible musical relationships.

If it is sort of the last gig for a minute, you know, it may be a celebration of the community that we have, that I've been part of for almost 20 years. Maybe probably more almost 30. Musicians keep coming out of this town. I'm proud of that and proud to have been part of it, and I hope to continue to be part of it.