Randy Brecker: 34th N Lex (2003)
Randy Brecker's last release ( Hangin' in the City ) was one strange puppy, a handful of serviceable tunes wound tightly around the convoluted perversion of "Randroid," the trumpeter's streetwise cabbie alter-ego. Brecker wisely got back to the groove this time around, leaving this disc's few vocals to more capable hands. The result is a highly entertaining album showcasing his strong suits of trumpet playing and composition, yet still maintaining a 21st century sensibility.
The ensembles range from quartet to octet in size, all sounding much more than their sum thanks to Brecker's arranging skills. His trumpet and flugelhorn are the centerpieces most of the time, with outstanding contributions from brother Michael, bassist Chris Minh Doky, Ronnie Cuber, David Sanborn, Fred Wesley and other compadres. The leader must be one of the hippest white guys in the business, having nailed various aspects of black popular music down pat. Hip-hop beats color "All 4 Love" without sounding generic; a muted Brecker recalls Miles around the time of Star People, while J Phoenix's layered vocals bring a more fashionable vibe. Makeeba Mooncycle paints vocal accents and scattered words onto the canvas of "Streeange," giving the impression, if nothing else, of a mere phone call in the background.
Less stereotypical urban sounds are also explored. The intro to "Foregone Conclusion" briefly recalls "Somewhere Out There" but blessedly moves into more appealing territory. "Tokyo Freddie" is a breakneck slice of neo-bop; "The Fisherman" leans close to Weather Report; heavy percussion and George Whitty's electric piano contribute to the intense urgency of "Hula Dula." These rank among Brecker's best compositions and will hopefully stay in his repertoire for some time.
Low points: the rather uninteresting "Give It Up," which would fare better were it not imbedded among so many stronger compositions, and the general sense of sameness among the many minor keys and dark moods. High marks to Adam Rogers' cookin' guitar on "Shanghigh," Ronnie Cuber on the title track, and the whole bloody band for negotiating the difficult rhythms of "Let It Go." One of Brecker's best releases in a career full of hills and valleys; bravo for a successful evaluation of the state of jazz today.
Track Listing: 34th N Lex; Streeange; Shanghigh; All 4 Love; Let It Go; Foregone Conclusion; Hula Dula; The Fisherman; Give It Up; Tokyo Freddie; The Castle Rocks.
Personnel: (Collective:) Randy Brecker, trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Brecker, Ada Rovatti, tenor sax; David Sanborn, alto sax; Ronnie Cuber, baritone sax; Fred Wesley, Michael Davis, trombone; Adam Rogers, Chris Taylor, guitar; Chris Minh Doky, bass; Gary Haase, bass, programming; George Whitty, keyboards, programming; Clarence Penn, drums; Zach Danziger, drum programming; Makeeba Mooncycle, J Phoenix, vocals.