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Tim Brey delivers the 'NEWS,' with a modern sound and a limber band

Pianist Tim Brey at WRTI with the members of his band: guitarist Ben Karp, bassist Madison Rast, trumpeter John Swana and drummer Anwar Marshall.
Pianist Tim Brey at WRTI with the members of his band: guitarist Ben Karp, bassist Madison Rast, trumpeter John Swana and drummer Anwar Marshall.

Philadelphia has been home to a long succession of celebrated jazz pianists, creating a legacy that can be daunting for any young player following in their footsteps. But in the case of Tim Brey, that expansive lineage functions strictly as creative motivation.

Brey, 32, has developed a reputation as one of the most in-demand pianists on the Philly scene. He’s also rapidly becoming an informational juggernaut as a music educator at Temple University's Boyer College of Music and Dance, where he himself earned a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies, as well as the University of the Arts and in private instruction.

When he’s not completing a rhythm section in Philadelphia or New York, hosting the Sunday evening Midtown Jazz Jam with his trio at Time Restaurant, or standing in front of a class of students, Brey spends his time composing and recording. So we were excited to book his band for a session at WRTI earlier this year. At the time, we were not aware that his band was playing music ultimately bound for a recording, titled NEWS. It will be featured again in an album-release celebration at Chris’ Jazz Café this Saturday.

NEWS is the follow-up to Brey’s 2021 release, The Things We Did Last Summer, which received limited exposure at a time when news cycles were dominated by everything COVID, political unrest, and urgent responses to social injustice.

We’ve been fortunate to capture performances by an assortment of seasoned international artists and rising stars from the Philadelphia area and beyond. Brey’s quintet features a cadre of gifted musicians who frequent our scene, including guitarist Ben Karp, bassist Madison Rast, drummer Anwar Marshall, and the storied John Swana on NuEVI (a successor to the Electronic Valve Instrument, or EVI).

The three tunes filmed by WRTI, for NPR Live Sessions, include the title selection from NEWS, which has a groove catchy enough to produce an earworm. Swana’s mastery of the NuEVI is indeed majestic. “Ask Me Later” has a beautiful lead-in by Brey that begs Swana and Karp to chime in. Together they create a cohesive blend of piano, guitar and NuEVI that at times sounds like one magical instrument.

On “Commodification,” the rhythm section is asked to swing into action, with Rast and Marshall answering the call. Together with Brey, they are the perfect force to drive the tune.

The Tim Brey Sextet performs at Chris’ Jazz Cafe this Saturday, Oct. 22 in person and via livestream.

J. Michael Harrison’s first radio show, WPEB’s “Is That Jazz” launched in June of 1993. In 1994 he began volunteering with WRTI as a production assistant. In 1996, J. Michael debuted his own program, The Bridge, which continues to air Friday evenings on WRTI.