by Kayleigh Digiacomo
Music Adjunct Instructor Ben Britton just received a Grammy nomination for his work on “Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!!” with Conductor Bobby Sanabria and the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. The nomination tops off an exciting year for Britton, whose jazz quartet, Unconventional Riot, recently released its debut EP, Children at Play. The EP includes three of Britton’s original compositions: “Children at Play,” “Partly,” and “Good Times.”
Unconventional Riot demonstrates its individuality by creating a unique sound that represents the “jazz of today.” Britton, the composer and tenor saxophonist for Unconventional Riot, describes the quartet’s style as staying true to “jazz tradition of the past,” all while integrating “modern trends of jazz and other genres of music.” Their style is a reflection of Unconventional Riot’s “modern approach” and the music’s “raw energy.”
Britton, along with Matt Davis, the guitarist; Gabe Globus-Hoenich, the drummer; and Jordan Berger, the bassist; have been playing together for almost a year. Britton praises his fellow quartet members for their “unique musical experience, which helps give the band their sound.”
When Britton works on his compositions he says that he tries to include an “unexpected twist or something that makes it unique.” He also mentions that he “enjoy[s] digging into different sounds and rhythms,” experimenting with unique sounds and progressions. Britton says that the music and improvisation of jazz musicians Chris Potter and Charlie Parker influence his own compositions.
Although the recording and mixing sessions for Unconventional Riot’s EP did not take very long, the time, energy, and creativity that the quartet invested in rehearsing spans almost an entire year. In addition, the labor, artistry, and creation of Britton’s original compositions date back two or three years before the quartet members began playing together.
“This music is my art, and this EP is kind of like a marking point showing where I am with my art today,” said Britton.
Britton tries to incorporate “a strong rhythmic groove and forward momentum” in order to evoke a mood of playfulness and fun. After taking a look at a music video from Unconventional Riot’s studio session, it is obvious that the musicians fully enjoy their job and are comfortable with each other’s style.
Improvisation is an important ingredient in jazz performances, adding a flavor that is unique to this art form. According to Britton, the key to successful improvisation is “know[ing] your instrument inside and out as well as the composition.”
“The faster you can take the music in your head and make it come out of your instrument the better,” he adds. “When I compose I often include something quirky and unique in each of my songs, and that is something that the improviser has to learn and internalize…I also want my solos to sound interesting, unified, and sometimes surprising.”
The success of Unconventional Riot’s first year has left the members excited to pursue gigs in New York City, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. You can catch them locally on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. at Chris’ Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom St., Philadelphia.
Britton also intends to work on compositions for a full-length album. Updates, videos, and blog posts can be found on Unconventional Riot’s website: http://unconventionalriot.wordpress.com.
Kayleigh Digiacomo is a student at Montgomery County Community College.