Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Still killin' it: Randy Brecker Rocks and the NDR Big Band:

Randy Brecker Rocks Big Band Piloo Records PR010

I had the pleasure of interviewing the trumpeter/composer Randy Brecker back in August of 2016, at the time for a Hot House magazine cover article, and I published a much more extensive interview on this blog. The conversation was open, enlightening and often filled with humorous recollections from Brecker’s years of experiences as an in demand professional musician. You can read this  interview by linking to it here.

In April of 2017, I was lucky enough to meet Brecker when he came to Atlanta. He was a featured performer at the Rialto Theater. Brecker participated in musical workshops at Georgia State University’s Music Department, at the invitation of fellow trumpeter Gordon Vernick, musical coordinator of jazz studies at G.S.U.

Besides having a formidable musical history that spans over fifty years, Randy Brecker is an exquisite player. He was often one of the first call trumpet players for studio work in New York in the late nineteen sixties. A creative, confident,  jovial and surprisingly approachable individual, you cannot miss this man’s enthusiasm for the music when you meet him.  During his visit in Atlanta, he graciously agreed to perform with local trumpeter/bandleader Joe Gransden and his seventeen-piece big band at the club CafĂ© 290 in Sandy Springs one evening. The event was memorable, especially when Vernick, Gransden and Brecker exchanged trumpet lines mano a mano style, as the Gransden  big band cooked enthusiastically behind Brecker.

Randy Brecker

It is now three years since my original interview and the seventy-three-year-old Brecker is continuing to add to his musical legacy. His latest record, RandyBrecker Rocks & NDR Big Band is another example of this man’s seemingly unlimited wellspring of musical enthusiasm and creativity.  The record includes nine cuts, all written by Brecker, each a return to his musical heritage. 

The opener “First Tune of the Set” was a song that he used to open their concerts when he toured with his brother Michael in the Brecker Brothers Band. The NDR Big Band sets the driving charge of the music. Music that identifies much of Randy’s style beautifully and with his unfettered passion. Brecker’s opening trumpet solo is energetic, powerful and stratospheric. Alto saxophonist Fiete Felsch offers his own equally ardent solo that is impressive. Vladislav Sendecki sets the tone electronically on his synthesizer with a Jan Hammer inspired keyboard solo that is from another planet. Rock on!

“Adina” is a composition that Randy wrote for his saxophonist/wife Ada Rovatti. The music has a lighter, breezier feel. The trumpeter offers a distinctly lyrical flugelhorn solo. Rovatti introduces her own floating soprano solo that drifts loosely over the pulsing band. Arranger Jorg Keller knows his band and compliments Brecker’s music with his own tight horn section work.

The funky “Squids” from the Brecker Brothers 1977 album Don’t Stop the Music is treated here in a distinctively more contemporary way. The NDR Band create an electronic funk feel with synthesizer and amplified horns. Brecker’s trumpet soars with electronic augmentation as he penetrates the music with an urgency of high-pitched trills and fast glissandi to a frenzy. A nice solo by tenor man Frank Delle offers a musical change in pace, and the horn section provides a steady throb that authenticates the funk.

Brecker was once a member of Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth band in the 1980’s and in 2001 he wrote “Pastoral,” a beautiful melody as a tribute to the bassist’s memory. Rovatti opens with a burnished tenor solo. Brecker’s flugelhorn is gorgeously warm, as he draws out the emotion with a poignancy that cannot be simply written into the music. The band plays this song with acute awareness of how special this is to their guest. There is an especially inspired bass clarinet feature by Bjorn Berger, but it is Brecker’s unfailing sensitivity that makes this one special.

If you prefer the sound of a boppish-like band, creating a finger-snapping melody, than “The Dipshit” will make you snap your fingers and move your feet. The song also serves as a reunion of two old Brecker Brothers Band members. Brecker’s trumpet penetrates the ozone level with intensity and altoist David Sanborn- not to be undone - lights up the scene entering the music like a man on fire. A blazing sound that raises the temperature with a heavy dose of urgency that ignites the band. These guys are cooking here as they feel the groove to the music and respond with gusto. 

The album includes some impressive, guitar-sounding synthesizer by Sendecki on Brecker’s “Above and Below.”  Brecker’s trumpet is never short of any inspired improvisational ideas, as his solo on this one demonstrates. Rovatti can wail her tenor with the best of them and yet she always has a sensitive side to her playing. This is some of Rovatti's most inspired playing on the album. Wolfgang Haffner has a precise drum solo on this, and the band is tight and powerful. A real tribute to the legacy of the Brecker Brothers Band  .

There is always room for a ballad, and here “Sozinho” provides a nice change of pace. This one features Randy’s mellifluous flugelhorn where he is at his lyrical best. Pianist Sendecki is a deft accompanist as well as a creative soloist of his own right.

The title song “Rocks,” combines a talented, well-oiled big band with the intense, impassioned solos from commensurate improvisers, Randy Brecker and David Sanborn. The music is quick-paced and incendiary. Listen to the charged solo that emerges from the alto of Sanborn. He is driven to heights by this constantly nudging group who just want to rock. Brecker’s trumpet is always probing, always reaching past what seems to be possible with this instrument.

The final composition “Threesome,” from the BBB’s 1981 album “Straphangin’” is another reunion of former band mates, Sanborn and Brecker. It is inspired by it’s  blues and gospel roots. Brecker utilizes the mute on his trumpet to great effect and creates a New Orlean’s style solo that howls. The format suits Sanborn’s penchant for the blues, as his alto is at home wailing out the notes of this revival style song. Guitarist Bruno Muller offers a tart solo that meets the songs’ sentiment nicely. This high energy European assembly, the NDR Big Band and their arranger Jorg Achim Keller, have embraced this music and though it will always be Randy Brecker's music, for this outing, the band has made it their own. 

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