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15

Randy Brecker: A Fusion Legacy

R.J. DeLuke By

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I enjoy rhythm. That's where I'm coming from. That's what I grew up with. —Randy Brecker
On stage at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland last July, the ubiquitous trumpeter Randy Brecker lowered his horn after playing two joyous and funky numbers on the stage that is one of the festivals largest venues, serving as a hockey arena during the appropriate season. There were throngs of people, sitting and standing, gleefully taking in the music. After wiping his forehead, Brecker formally announced his group: the Brecker Brothers Reunion Band.

"We play FUSION," he said, emphasizing the last word in a lower-register, foghorn like bellow. He repeated "FUUUUUSION."

He meant it. The band, on tour supporting the new recording The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion, serves up a full menu of funky, sparkling, pat-your-food, shake-your-butt music that is gritty and full of hot solos, as well. For years, the band, with Randy's brother Michael on saxophone, had a huge fan base and claimed their own spot in the fusion landscape, even as both Breckers, individually, also made their own reputations as top-shelf, intense mainstream jazz burners.

The formation of the band was somewhat inadvertent, as was this first reunion since the death of Michael Brecker, an iconic saxophonist, in 2007 after being diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), an illness leading to leukemia. But that music, and that band, is a place Randy Brecker now regards as home; somewhere he will depart from periodically, and to which he will return.

"You have to follow your muse," Brecker says recently from his New York City home. "I love playing straight ahead. That's what I started doing, playing acoustically. I still do quite a bit of that with other people and occasionally my own bands. But quite honestly, I feel most at home in this setting. I realized when I put this back together that this band is kind of my legacy. People still want to hear it, even if the 'jazz police' don't. We did a real successful tour all summer. There are a lot of people all over the world that still get excited hearing this stuff. It's exciting to play."

On saxophone is Ada Rovatti, a native of Italy who grew up hearing the Brecker Brothers and has a similar inclination toward fusing musical styles. She also happens to be Brecker's wife, and mother to their four-year-old daughter Stella.

"I love traditional jazz too. I do play it every time I have a chance," says Rovatti. "But Randy's music is probably the closest to what I like to play and how I feel about music. I truly enjoy that setting. All my recordings have kind of a fusion hint in it. That's where my heart is. But that doesn't mean I don't love to play in a more traditional setting. I love that too. The real me comes out also as a composer [of fusion material], and you can see where I'm standing."

The new record pays tribute to the old band in its personnel, and a tune or two. But it is not looking back. Brecker had been writing original material. He continues to do so, as does Rovatti. Concert goers will hear some of the familiar, but will be exposed to new creations, new art. The heart and soul of the band is the common touchstone from a past era to this one.

The new recording package is a sweet combination of an 11-cut CD recording and a live DVD of the band playing nine compositions at the Blue Note club in New York City. Naturally, the DVD captures beautifully the live show, which features great musicians like Will Lee on bass, Dave Weckl on drums and Mike Stern on guitar. The horns are burning, Brecker's power and tone as bright as ever; Rovatti pouring out streams of ideas with great feeling. Weckl drives this kind of music impeccably; smooth as silk, everywhere on his drum kit. Powerful and deft. And Stern is his usual remarkable self.

On the studio set, everyone is on. Personnel changes a bit. Mitch Stein and Adam Rogers play some guitar, Rodney Holmes some drums. Some tunes are the same on both discs. Noteworthy in the studio, not DVD, are "The Dipshit" a delightfully funky trip that Brecker kills and where guitarist Rogers sounds buttery blue. "Elegy for Mike" is a touching nod-your-head to the great saxophonist. Oli Rockberger adds emotional vocals on ""Merry Go Town" that are captivating.

The music is blissful, catchy, and carries a worldliness where it can never be called "just fun," even though it is all of that to listen to.

It's not the first reunion of the band. After the band went on hiatus for a while, and both Breckers were involved in a myriad of projects, they played again in the '90s, again to great success. So the intent was, even after another break, to keep the entity alive, ready to resurface when the time was appropriate. Randy "had some solo projects in the can," but slowed down for a for a while and didn't write much. In 1996, he met Rovatti and they were married in 2001.

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