Randy Brecker – Randy Pop – Piloo PR009, 77:54 ****:
(Randy Brecker – trumpet, effects, voice; Kenny Werner – piano, keyboards, arrangements; David Sanchez – tenor saxophone; Amanda Brecker – vocals; Adam Rogers – guitar; John Patitucci – bass; Nate Smith – drums)
Elite session musician revisits his pop career in a jazzy way!
Randy Brecker has been among the elite of session musicians for nearly fifty years. More importantly, his contributions involve a wide array of music. Brecker has played with Horace Silver, Bruce Springsteen, Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa, Stanley Turrentine, Lou Reed, Spyro Gyra, Dire Straits, Larry Coryell and Blood Sweat & Tears, to name a few. He was a successful band leader, most notably with the Brecker Brothers Band, that included his sibling Michael. That group earned several Grammy nominations and two wins. Brecker also garnered two Grammy awards as a solo artist. Music fans are familiar with a lot of his work by sound, if not by name.
Brecker has assembled a top-notch band to revisit and invigorate his jazzy pop legacy. Randy Pop recreates nine songs that Brecker played on in his vaunted studio career. Arranged (or “deranged” as described by Brecker in the liner notes) by pianist Kenny Werner, extended jazz versions of these tunes are played live at The Blue Note.
Opening the set is Donald Fagen’s cool groove-fest, “New Frontier” from his first solo outing. Nightfly. Reasonably faithful to the original recording, the band infuses live, collaborative dynamics. Brecker (trumpet) and David Sanchez (tenor saxophone) add some muscular framework to the piece. Solos from trumpet and guitar (Adam Rogers) sparkle, while Werner (keyboards), John Patitucci (bass) and Nate Smith lock in the rhythm. There is a comical anecdote about the Steely Dan tedious recording process. Amanda Brecker handles lead vocals and opens on the Bette Midler ballad, “Let Me Just Follow Behind”. But it is Werner who contributes a lyrical complex piano solo that is brilliant. Sanchez follows on tenor with nimble dexterity and soulfulness in his extended solo. Brecker takes over with forceful prominence as the band keeps a slow cadence percolating.
The longer arrangements capture the compositional intricacies. A certain highlight is the instrumental cover of “I Can’t Quit Her”. Part of the seminal Blood Sweat & Tears debut, Child Is Father To The Man, this version maintains some of the core rhythm and blues, and transforms it into a bop jazz classic with syncopated timing. Werner has an ebullient solo. For fans of the original, Brecker and company include a portion of the punctuated coda before the swinging ending. Brecker is a living musical historian. He reminisces about his father selling a Hammond organ to Todd Rundgren (who he didn’t know at the time), then proceeds to introduce “Hello It’s Me” to the audience revealing that the original was cut on the first take. This live version injects levels of moodiness and jazz harmony. Werner executes his solo with delicacy and precision. The band transforms the chord structure and the nature of the number. Brecker weaves jazzy soul into his runs, and the trumpet/sax duo gracefully returns to the theme.
Going off script, the band resurrects Garland Jeffrey’s 1977 opus “Ghost Writer”. This had been recorded without horns and Werner has adapted it to a weird ska-tempo and fusion dynamic. Rogers lends an acid-tinged guitar solo. Again, the jam is transformational, mixing genres with gleeful abandon. There is an odd, beatnik version of James Brown’s “Think” with spoken word. Only two minutes long, the group explodes into a Zappa-esque funk interpretation of another Brown shaker., “I’ve Got A Bag Of My Own”. Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across The River” features emotive vocals by Amanda Brecker and muted trumpet lines. The finale is Paul Simon’s sprightly “Late In The Evening”. Werner retools the Latin vibe to a gliding, jazzy feel. His electric piano is agile and glows with bluesy prominence. The understated horn accents still have complexity.
Randy Pop is fun and shows why jazz musicians are spontaneous and creative. Their contribution to pop albums has been consistently undervalued. Hopefully, this will set things right!
TrackList: New Frontier; Let Me Just Follow Behind; I Can’t Quit Her; Hello It’s Me; Ghost Writer; Think; I’ve Got A Bag Of My Own; Meeting Across The River; Late In The Evening