Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Randy Brecker graces the stage of Cafe 290 with the Joe Gransden Big Band

This Monday night at the Café 290 in Sandy Springs, the Joe Gransden Big Band featured a very special guest artist. The six time Grammy award winning Randy Brecker came to play his distinctive trumpet with Joe’s Big Band on this very special evening of song. Randy's sound can be heard on a generation of iconic recordings from Bruce Springsteen, Horace Silver, Parliament Funkadelic, Mark Murphy, the Brecker Brothers and his own recordings as a leader,

Randy Brecker with The Joe Gransden Big Band at Cafe 290
Joe Gransden frontinghis Big BAnd at Cafe 290
The Joe Gransden Big Band is one of the best big band jazz ensembles in the Southeastern United States if not the entire country. This well-oiled machine has been making Johnny Scatena’s Café 290 their home on the third Monday of every month. While the cast of musicians at times rotate out of scheduling necessity, the core group and its leader has remained intact and showered the Atlanta and surrounding area with the glorious sounds of a jazz big band for nearly a decade. Joe Gransden is an indefatigable presence on the local jazz scene and his dedication and sheer will power has been the glue that has kept this group together. Many of the area’s top musicians and musical educators have played their part to make his big band a viable entity. Joe is the perfect front man. His ability to woo a crowd with his Sinatra-esque voice, his charming stage presence and his facile trumpet work has made him a local favorite and an astute spokesman for the music. Some say the hardest working musician in the Atlanta area.

The house was packed and there was a palpable excitement brewing in the air. The audience was surprisingly diverse with many younger listeners in attendance to hear one the most familiar sounds on the trumpet in the last forty years. The sound of Randy Brecker. The musicians were equally pumped at the possibility of sharing the stage with one of their musical heroes and Brecker did not disappoint.

The band started out with their own, Wes Funderburk arrangements, blowing through a stirring version of “Miss Fine” with a soaring trumpet solo by Gordon Vernick. They moved onto a heart thumping rendition of “Cherokee” with precision and polish that had the audience bopping. Superb solos by Sam Skelton on alto, Joe Gransden on trumpet and Mike Walton on tenor just added savory spice to this already simmering stew. Joe crooned on “Pick Yourself Up” from the Sinatra songbook, with a silky alto saxophone solo by the young rising star Akeem Marable and Joe added his own mellow flugelhorn solo.

“My Blue Heaven” was another classic, this one featuring Joe’s hip vocal and a burly tenor solo by John Sandfort. The band brought it down a notch with a Chet Baker ballad “She Was Too Good To Me,” which Joe sang with a tender honesty that shared Baker’s poignant approach. Joe made good on a promise to sing another Sinatra favorite “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” for a female patron in the crowd. The band purred through the powerful arrangement with trombonist and arranger Wes Funderburk offering a raucous solo midway through.

Now that the band and the crowd was sufficiently warmed up, Joe introduced Mr. Brecker. The trumpeter had just arrived shortly before, after his plane was delayed for three hours due to the turbulent weather. Brecker is in town for a week of jazz educational sessions at the invitation of Dr. Gordon Vernick at Georgia State’s Jazz Department. He graciously accepted to fly down, meet and talk with the students in the jazz program; his visit culminating in a performance at the Rialto Theater playing in front of the Georgia State University Jazz Band under the direction of Dr. Vernick this Thursday evening. You can get tickets to what surely will be a memorable event by linking here.
I am a huge fan of Randy Brecker  and his music and had the opportunity to interview him last August for my blog, which can be accessed by linking here. He is an affable soul, a generous spirit and a tremendous talent whose prolific studio work has penetrated the airwaves to the enjoyment of almost everyone.

The band started an obscure arrangement that Randy brought along of the classic “Green Dolphin Street.” The band had to sight read, which they did brilliantly, to great effect. Brecker’s horn was strong, sharp and distinctive as he maneuvered through the changes with an ease and sensitivity that had both the band and the audience marveling. He had marvelous control and could navigate the slurs and high notes without any degradation in his sound. John Sandfort had a steaming tenor solo that had Mr. Brecker nodding his approval appreciatively.

On Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” Brecker’s trumpet work was wonderfully soulful. The band devoured the Shorter piece like a hungry lion at feeding time. This band elevated their game for Mr. Brecker and it became clear that the admiration was reciprocated. The finale of Mr. Brecker’s first set performance was a blues that featured dueling trumpets of Mr. Brecker, Mr. Vernick and Mr. Gransden. It was like a scene from High Noon, each player respectively showing off their respective prowess. The contrast in style and tone was interesting to observe with each artist having their own distinctive strengths.  
Randy Brecker, Gordon Vernick and Joe Gransden
As Brecker left the stage to an ovation the band continued with Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” and ended the set with a blazing version of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Things to Come.”

The second set featured Joe singing a lusty “Teach Me Tonight” and a beautiful version of “Body & Soul: featuring the sensitive side of Mr. Brecker. The band tackled Monk’s quirky “Well You Needn’t” with a solo by the energized Brecker and a bellowing baritone blow by multi- reed man Don Erdman.  The set ended with a new composition and arrangement by saxophonist Mike Walton “Merging Lanes,” which was inventive, but still unfamiliar in all its intricacies to the band, who was reading it for the first time.  The audience was appreciative of the effort and the evening was a resounding success.

Mr. Brecker is a world-class artist and should be commended for going out of his way to join this spirited band and bring some of his artistry to Atlanta. There is no doubt he thoroughly enjoyed himself and for anyone who was there it was a night to remember.

Check out Randy Brecker at the Rialto this Thursday evening, April 5, 2017  as he plays with  the Georgia State University Jazz Band under the direction o Dr. Gordon Vernick you can get tickets here. Also check out the Joe Gransden Big Band coming to the City Winery in Atlanta with his “Songs of Sinatra” show on Thursday May 18 th you can get tickets here.

The Joe Gransden Big Band on this evening featured Joe Gransden trumpet/voice/leader; Dr. Geof Haden on keys; Neal Starkey on bass, Justin Varnes on drums; Dr. Gordon Vernick, Kevin Lyons, Chip Crotts, Clark trumpets; Mike Walton, ts; Don Erman bari/clarinet; Akeem Marabel, as; Sam Skelton,as; John Sandfort, ts; Wes Fundeburk arranger/trombone; Tom Gibson, trombone; Devin Witt, Trombone. Derrick Jackson trombone. 

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