Randy Brecker & NDR Bigband: Rocks

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Of course, it’s spectacular. The strange thing is that such events are rare in the UK (do the bands not measure up or is it a difference of outlook?), and possibly now in the USA with the exception of college bands. (Randy laments in the liner note that in the US there’s smooth jazz radio on one hand and purist jazz radio on the other, leaving no space for his “eccentric music”: as the UK threatens to confirm a long-coming estrangement from Europe and new closeness to the US it rings a bell.) How many times has Randy Brecker guested on a continental radio orchestra production? Germany in particular seems to have become the sanctuary for high-quality reproductions of the best of 70s and 80s jazz fusion.

And Randy’s writing is among the best. The ingenuity of his writing has rarely been paralleled since he came up with his style in the mid-70s and it still virtually constitutes a sub-genre of its own. He once told me arrangements from Art Blakey’s bands were the inspiration but with the exception perhaps of some Wayne Shorter pieces, harmony as dense, chromatic and subtly insinuating (for insinuating catch the sly bass clarinet G-A-B line over Eb7 on the main theme) as this was rarely heard in Blakey’s bands.

The German band executes RB’s demanding charts with great precision – you’d hardly know “Squids” wasn’t done by the original 1978 Heavy Metal Bebop band. In those days the Brecker Brothers band was in a class of one in terms of virtuosity, but – a product perhaps of jazz education – such facility is now a virtual commonplace.

Brecker at 70-something seems to have lost none of his range as a soloist and is joined prominently in the spotlight here by his wife the saxophonist Ada Rovatti and by old colleague David Sanborn – the latter on “The Dipshit” perhaps not quite as glistening slick as in his mid-80s peak and hewing closer to the tenorish gravel of the 1991 Another Hand.

The set has a highlight a minute but highlights of highlights include “Rocks”, as per the original a tremendous chart but in this iteration containing a Sanborn solo of sideslipping fluency we mightn’t have heard 40 years ago – a must hear – and the skewed gospel of “Threesome” with Sanborn shrieking and completely on point. If there’s any (minor) shortfall, I miss the emphatic playing of that rising bass riff in the fourth bar of the pedal point section of “Above and Below” (originally on the 1992 Return of the Brecker Brothers) – splitting hairs but the devil’s music is in the detail of Brecker’s writing. Everything else is nigh perfect.

Discography
First Tune Of The Set; Adina; Squids; Pastoral; Rocks; The Dipshit; Above And Below; Sozinho; Rocks; Threesome (63.13)
Brecker (t, flh); David Sanborn (as); Ada Rovatti (ss, ts); Wolfgang Haffner (d) with the NDR Bigband. Hamburg, Germany, January 2017 & May 2018.
Jazzline N 77057