When larger-than-life rock and funk stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Jimmy Page beckoned Terrence Brewer to the guitar, the young teenager eagerly answered the summons. And while he's gained respect in the past decade as one of the region's top straight-ahead jazz guitarists, Brewer has never relinquished his love of a supple backbeat.
A few years ago, seeking to bring together his two musical passions, he launched Citizen Rhythm, a sinewy quartet that transforms modern jazz standards with funk, rock and hip-hop grooves. Featuring drummer Rob Rhodes, keyboardist Michael Coleman, and electric bassist Doug Ebert, the band has developed into a tough, self-confident outfit with a sound unlike any other band on the local scene.
"I love that I get to play jazz, but I missed being in a band that makes people move and groove," says Brewer, 37, who performs with Citizen Rhythm at the Fairmont Hotel as part of San Jose Jazz's Free Jazz Wednesdays series. "I wanted to put the two things together, where you keep the groove, but we're challenged as improvisers playing Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis compositions."
The Fairmont gig is a rare South Bay appearance for the Pittsburg-based Brewer, though he will be back on the Peninsula for KCSM's revived Jazz on the Hill festival on June 1. He's worked occasionally with San Jose organist Brian Ho, and can accompany vocalists with real sensitivity, but he first gained notice as with a series of self-produced albums focusing on his original tunes and arrangements for quartet and quintet.
More recently, Brewer paid tribute to guitar great Wes Montgomery during an organ trio session with Wil Blades, "Groovin' Wes," and arranged a program of American Songbook gems on "Setting the Standard" featuring his quintet with saxophonist Kasey Knudsen. With Citizen Rhythm, which released an eponymous album last year, Brewer re-imagined definitive tunes by Charles Mingus ("Nostalgia in Times Square"), McCoy Tyner ("Passion Dance"), and Jimmy Heath ("Gingerbread Boy").
The album also features two takes, live and studio, of Chick Corea's "Crystal Silence," an ethereal but sturdy melody that the pianist has recorded in several different settings since he introduced it on the Brazilian-tinged 1972 album "Return to Forever." Brewer approaches the piece like a power ballad, changing up the feel from 4/4 to 5/4 with a subtle backbeat.
No composer's music has proved more amenable to Citizen Rhythm's populist reinventions than Wayne Shorter. The album opens with a compelling version of "Speak No Evil," set to a simmering hip-hop groove. The album also features the saxophonist's "E.S.P." and "Wildflower," though Brewer has steadily added additional Shorter tunes to the band's book.
"His music seems to be really open to tempo changes and new grooves," Brewer says. "The focus of Citizen Rhythm isn't to write original music. It's about shaking your hips."
He credits Charlie Hunter, with whom he studied, as a primary source of inspiration, though the stylistic scope of John Scofield and Pat Metheny has also provided a road map for the band. The immediate conceptual spark for Citizen Rhythm came from the 2004 album "A Guitar Supreme" (Tone Center), a project featuring fusion heavyweights such as Mike Stern, Larry Coryell, Greg Howe and Frank Gambale shredding tunes by (or associated with) John Coltrane.
But Citizen Rhythm is as notable for what it isn't as for what it is. While the band is definitely plugged in, Brewer isn't interested in rocking out on a Stratocaster, playing high-velocity fusion in tricky time signatures. Instead, he kept his longtime axe, a classic hollow body archtop guitar. His tone, cool and clean with just an occasional touch of distortion or delay, is almost unchanged from his acoustic sessions.
"We're constantly straddling worlds and sounds," Brewer says. "I approach this music as a jazz player through this rhythmic palette. All of us play funk and R&B and all this other stuff. But the beauty of a guitar is that sound, and I wanted to keep it as much as I could."
He's even taken the Citizen Rhythm concept back into acoustic settings with piano and double bass, "and everything still translates," he says. "It just sounds really modern, really contemporary. That's the beauty and flexibility of jazz."
terrence brewer's citizen rhythm
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Fairmont Hotel,
170 S. Market St., San Jose
Tickets: Free, 408-288-7557, www.sanjosejazz.org