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Festival Da Jazz: St Moritz 2013

Bruce Lindsay By

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Smith's large drum kit threatened to overwhelm the stage and betrayed his origins as a rock drummer, most notably with Journey in the early '80s. Nothing in his kit was wasted, as he made full use of every drum and cymbal with some powerhouse playing. From my vantage point, only 3 feet behind Hiromi, the sound seemed well-balanced, but there were reports that for those closer to the drums than the piano Smith's assertive style made it difficult to hear Hiromi's playing.

For Hiromi, there was no subtle build up, no easing in to the room or to the instrument. She attacked the piano from the off, releasing an energy that readily spread through the small room. The tune was "Move," from her album of the same name (Telarc Records, 2013).

Hiromi concentrated on this album for most of her selections. "Endeavor" most closely resembled the work of her hero, Frank Zappa, with its nifty, humorous, electric keyboard phrases. She cooled things down with "Brand New Day" and "Haze"— a quietly graceful solo performance from Voice (Telarc Records, 2011)— then ended her set with "Suite Escapism." Parts 1 and 3 maintained the high energy of the early numbers, the second part ("Fantasy") proved to be the prettiest tune of the evening, with a distinct country feel at times almost moving into Floyd Cramer territory.

Friday, July 19

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez took over the Dracula Club for the Friday night concert with his quintet, including tenor saxophone and trumpet. Rodriguez opened the set with drummer Henry Cole, an impressive musician and consistently the strongest player of the night. Donning headphones, Rodriguez began to build up layers of sound on synthesiser, both players driving each other on to more flurried and faster grooves. It was an exciting start, but despite Cole's creative percussion the extended duel went on for rather too long.

Rodriguez returned to the synthesiser later in the set and once again early promise fell away as ideas were over-extended. The acoustic tunes were more impressive, especially when the band was stripped down to Rodriguez' piano, Cole's percussion and the tall, relaxed, bassist Reiner Elizarde. The closing tune, an upbeat quintet re-working of "Guantanamera" fusing the sound of mariachi horns and free form passages with the classic Cuban song, showed that the band has potential especially once Rodriguez reigns in his use of the synthesizer and gives his skills as a pianist the emphasis they deserve.

Saturday July, 20

The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion stormed it. Throughout a 90 minute set the band was on top form technically, tight as a unit, funky as anything has a right to be. This was a genuine reunion of players who were central to the original Brecker Brothers lineups, including keyboard player and producer George Whitty. The notable exception was, of course, Michael Brecker who died in 2007. His place was taken by Italian saxophonist Ada Rovatti, trumpeter Randy Brecker's wife.

At the beginning of the set Randy Brecker apologised in advance for what he promised would be a loud evening, as they had been expecting a 1500 seat venue until less than 48 hours earlier. Bassist Chris Minh Doky explained later that Steve Smith had called them after his gig with Hiromi to put them right about the size of the venue.

The band certainly was loud, but the musicians had such a great sense of dynamics and ensemble playing that it never seemed too loud. The set mixed Brecker Brothers classics with Randy Brecker's newer compositions including tunes dedicated to his young daughter (the bright, Brazilian flavoured, "Stellina") and to brother Michael (the moving "Elegy For Mike"). Many of the tunes will feature on an upcoming live CD recorded at the Blue Note.

The band opened proceedings with the aptly-titled "First Tune Of The Set." On "Really In For It" Brecker put down his trumpet to tell the sad story of a loser in love and life. He rapped with an effortless, dude-ish cool, growling the tale over a suitably gritty vamp. "Spherical," Michael's tribute to Thelonious Monk, brought another cooled- down vibe. Dean Brown produced a great guitar solo—initially economical, crisp and understated, then building in intensity to a frenzied conclusion. The tune also benefited from Doky's rock solid but funky bass groove.

An extended "Some Skunk Funk" closed the set, with each band member soloing in turn. Doky and drummer Dave Weckl both impressed with their lengthiest solos of the night. Applause soon turned into a standing ovation. With a pleasing disregard for convention the band never left the stage. No "will they, won't they" tensions for the audience to ponder. Instead, the band kicked straight into "Inside Out" to bring the performance to a suitably joyful close.

Sunday July 21

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