He was a founding member of Blood Sweat & Tears, a part of Billy Cobham’s seminal fusion band Dreams and one-half of one of the most exciting rock-jazz combos of the 70s and early 80s, the Brecker Brothers. Not to mention innumerable session dates and a fistful of fine solo records going all the way back to 1969’s Score. So yeah, Grammy™-winning trumpet ace Randy Brecker might have earned the right to spend a record looking back at one of jazz and fusion’s fulfilling careers of the last forty years.
Actually, he is looking back at just one but very important aspect of his career, as the title The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion makes clear. Ostensibly, this was meant to be just a Randy Brecker solo album (and officially, it is), borne out of a week-long engagement at New York’s famed Blue Note club in 2011. But it didn’t take long for Brecker to realize that the stellar roster of musicians he assembled for both the gig and the record had been supporting musicians in some version or another of the Brecker Brothers.
Like the Allman Brothers Band, the Brecker Brothers is carrying on with one surviving brother despite the premature loss of the other one. Michael Brecker was a towering tenor saxophonist and a devastating loss, to be sure, but The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion can be thought of as Randy’s Eat A Peach: a tribute to the fallen brother that also serves notice that there’s plenty enough talent left behind to make a record that can hold its own to the older classics.
The talent is there in force right from the first tune of the set, which is called, ahem, “First Tune Of The Set,” a recording that has the energy and vibrancy of a live performance. Joining Brecker is Mike Stern and Dean Brown on guitars, the omnipresent Will Lee on bass, Dave Weckl on drums and album producer George Whitty on keyboards. Oh, and in the tenor sax chair is Randy’s “lady in the hot seat,” his wife Ada Rovatti. The song, composed by Randy, pulls together many of his strengths. Beginning with a down-home funk groove, those classic Brecker Brothers trumpet/horn quicksilver bebop lines kick in and the Brazilian comes through as Brecker commences with a pure, flawless trumpet run. Stern comes in behind him and delivers one of his patented scorchers. Later on, Whitty comes through with a funky synth solo that could have come from the 90s (he was, after all a participant in those 90s comeback albums). The only thing missing is Rovatti taking her own turn in the spotlight.
Fortunately, the album comes with a companion DVD documenting the Blue Note performance, and she gets a feature on the same song played live with the same personnel, sans Brown. This video above is a snippet of the DVD that captures this very performance. Rovatti does not sound like Michael Brecker, but she doesn’t need to because she’s a top-rate improviser with her own voice. The highlight comes when she trades licks with Randy, nearly bringing down the house.
If the absence of Michael Brecker leaves too large of a hole to call this “the Brecker Brothers,” I suppose I could accept that argument. But there’s no argument that whatever this band is called, it’s killer, and Randy Brecker wrote some material like “First Tune Of The Set” to match their virtuosity.
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The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion CD/DVD drops on October 8, courtesy of Piloo Records.