Randy Brecker – The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion – Piloo (CD+DVD) PR007, CD: 73:03, DVD: (1.85:1 color, DD 2.0) 98:33 ***1/2:
(Randy Brecker – trumpet, flugelhorn; Ada Rovatti – tenor and soprano sax; Mike Stern – guitar; Will Lee – bass; Dave Weckl – drums; George Whitty – keyboards; Oli Rockberger – vocals, keyboards)
(Randy Brecker – trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 2, 9), electric trumpet (track 5); Ada Rovatti – tenor and soprano saxophone (tracks 1-4, 6-10); David Sanborn – alto saxophone (tracks 3, 6); Jim Campagnola – baritone saxophone (tracks 6, 8); Mike Stern – guitar (tracks 1, 5-6); Dean Brown – guitar (tracks 1, 5, 7, 9); Adam Rogers – guitar (tracks 2-3, 8, 11); Mitch Stein – guitar (tracks 5-6, 10); Will Lee – bass (tracks 1-6, 8, 10); Chris Minh Doky – bass (track 7); Dave Weckl – drums (tracks 1-4, 7-9); Rodney Holmes – drums (tracks 5-6, 10); George Whitty – producer, keyboards, percussion programming (tracks 1-2, 9-10), organ (track 3), sound design (tracks 4, 7-8), nurse wretched (track 6); Oli Rockberger – vocals, keyboards, vocal arrangements (4, 8); Randroid – rap, vocals (track 8, 11))
Trumpeter Randy Brecker comes full circle on the latest endeavor bequeathed to the Brecker Brothers band, the CD/DVD project simply dubbed The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion. In 1975, when Randy Brecker was working on what was supposed to be his first solo album, the venture instead became the debut of the Brecker Brothers, with younger sibling Michael on saxophone. Fast forward to 2011: Randy Brecker was putting together an ensemble to back him during a week-long Blue Note gig in New York City, and realized the artists he contacted had some connection to either the original Brecker Brothers group (which ran from 1975-1981) or the reunited band (which toured and recorded in the early ‘90s, and again in the early 2000s). Thus, another edition of the Brecker Brothers was born. The concert group includes Brecker, his wife Ada Rovatti (taking Michael’s place, on tenor and soprano sax; she’s the only one who has not been in a previous Brecker Brothers roster), guitarist Mike Stern (Steps Ahead, Miles Davis, et al), keyboardist George Whitty (credits include Herbie Hancock, Leni Stern and Santana), bassist Will Lee (who is seen every weeknight in David Letterman’s house band, the so-called CBS Orchestra) and drummer Dave Weckl (Chick Corea, the GRP All-Star Big Band, lots of solo releases). The DVD also includes a guest spot from UK-now-NYC singer Oli Rockberger. The studio CD, taped after the concert series, includes the identical line-up, plus Rockberger and numerous other invitees.
Going chronologically, the DVD is first (the band played the Blue Note in Sept. 2011 and then went into the studio later the same month). One major problem: there are no DVD chapters and no menu. You can only watch the DVD from beginning to end in one sitting: if you want to experience a specific tune, you can try fast-forwarding or hitting the rewind button, but that’s it. Whoever programmed the DVD did a poor job. However, the sound and video quality are fine. Multiple cameras provide long shots of the small stage, medium shots of different band members, and close-ups of the musicians. Viewers get a front-seat sensation and the feeling of standing next to or behind someone on stage. The nine-track outing is a mix of new compositions and some older Brecker Brothers fan faves. The 90-minute set-list is high octane from start to finish, from the opener “First Tune of the Set” (a new composition which introduces Randy and Ada’s tight tenor sax-trumpet unison lines) to the funkified “The Slag,” (another fresh original) where Whitty conjures Dr. John’s voodoo keyboard charisma. When the piece gels into a jazz-rock fusion section, Ada approximates Stern’s amped-up guitar slinging with equally exciting sax, played through wah-wah effects: the result is akin to a dueling dual guitar salvo. Things proceed to a slower pace during the samba-seasoned, abundantly melodic and charming “Adina,” Randy’s tribute to Ada. Randy’s soloing brims with bonhomie, while Ada offers a warm sheen via soprano sax.
Randy’s humor is in the forefront when his alter ego, Randroid, procures the microphone on the soul/blues treatment “Really In for It” (the luckless story of a self-deluded lady’s man who meets his deadly match), which also includes more wah-wah sax and Lee’s deep-fried bass lines. Michael Brecker’s spirit then arises during a rendering of his “Straphangin’,” from the Brecker Brothers 1981 LP of the same name. Randy’s altered arrangement is better than the initial version, which was bogged down by a dance-friendly foundation. Randy’s extended soloing is one highlight; Stern’s low-end, juxtaposed guitar solo is another. The set is marred somewhat by the appearance of British-born singer Rockberger, who commences an unexpected pop detour on his “Merry Go Town.” The number has flair when Rovatti and Brecker take solo spins, but when Rockberger sings (he’s not a bad vocalist, just uninspired) and incorporates unexceptional keyboards, the momentum flails. The evening wraps up with two rousing ‘70s-era cuts from 1978’s Heavy Metal Be-Bop. The blues-tinted jazz-rocker “Inside Out” has expansive room for everyone, while “Some Skunk Funk” is played “as fast as humanly possible.” And, indeed, it’s quite a night-ending workout.
The companion CD replicates about half the DVD. While the studio versions are finely produced, they don’t have the in-the-moment vitality of the live renditions. One standout is the boogaloo number, “The Dipshit,” which has Sanborn on his signature alto sax, and where Brecker quotes from Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder,” which seems an obvious influence on this groove-and-grits cut. Modern and electronic funk rears up during aptly-titled “R N Bee,” a longer piece with a lot of Whitty keyboards and programming. Here, Brecker elicits Miles Davis’ ‘70s period with his concise notes which sometimes hang in the air. The most wistful and beautiful segment is “Elegy for Mike,” Randy’s poignant homage to his departed brother, who succumbed to leukemia complications in 2007. Ada’s tender soprano sax melds nicely with Randy’s high-toned trumpet. The other tracks which do not appear on the DVD are less vibrant. The flawed “On the Rise” utilizes both Rockberger and Randroid on vocals, with no apparent good reason. Hopefully this does not show Brecker’s future, and he’ll collaborate with other, better singers. Randroid makes his final manifestation on the Delta blues snoozer, “Musician’s Ol’ Lady Dues Blues,” an apathetic attempt at pre-war blues. The CD/DVD packaging is excellent: there is a foldout booklet with complete credits for the studio material (although no credits for the live DVD show) and Bill Milkowski’s typically well-written liner notes. The CD and DVD sit in plastic shells held in a foldout digipak, which is preferable to the paper or cardboard sleeves used in some similar packages.
CD: First Tune of the Set; Stelina; The Dipshit; Merry Go Town; The Slag; Really in for It; Elegy for Mike; On the Rise; Adina; R N Bee; Musician’s Ol’ Lady Due’s Blues.
DVD: First Tune of the Set; The Slag; Adina; Really in for It; Straphangin’; Stelina; Merry Go Town; Inside Out; Some Skunk Funk