Randy Brecker: A Fusion Legacy

R.J. DeLuke By

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Brecker says the Brecker Brothers Band was intending to stay together and work more, "but Mike had taken ill. We didn't work together. After '98, we were going to take a little break. I did some solo records. Plus he did. [Then] we were booked as the Brecker Brothers band to go to Moscow. We had been to Japan. Mike called up two days before we were supposed to leave and said he couldn't' make it. Something was wrong with his back. I kind of pooh-poohed it. I said 'Get on the plane. We'll deal with it when we get there.' But he was really serious. It turned out that was the beginning of his illness. He had a broken vertebrae. It was the first symptom of what later was diagnosed as MDS and then, unfortunately, leukemia. We lost him two and half years later. So that was the end of that."

Rovatti went with her husband to Moscow in the winter of 2004-2005. It was her first time on the hot seat that was the great Michael Brecker's saxophone chair. "She took Mike's place in the regular band and we went anyway," says the trumpeter. "A good friend of mine, Igor Butman, sponsored it. He was crushed that Mike couldn't make it. He'd been working on it for years. Mike felt terrible. But she really rose to the occasion. We played five nights in Igor's club. Did a couple concerts. The band sounded great. She sounded great. We were all sad that Mike couldn't be there, but it still turned out to be a great gig. The club was packed. Igor was happy."

Rovatti, trained on classical piano, switched to saxophone in high school. "My brother had a blues band. He was trying to put some gigs together. He was looking for a saxophonist. He told me if I was playing saxophone I would be very popular with guys," she says, chuckling. "It was a good way to get me into the music business. That's kind of a joke." But she was good enough to earn a scholarship to Berklee College of Music. After a year in Paris she returned to the U.S. "to try to play with the right people and learn the music and try to play as much as I could."

One of the earliest jazz recordings she heard in Italy was Return of the Brecker Brothers, and that music, as well as Michael Brecker's saxophone, became a big influence.

Q: Your solo albums also seem to have that fusion influence. "I grew up listening to English rock and a lot of different styles of music, so for me the real meaning of fusion is combining different styles and rhythm and flavors from all over the world," she said. "My last album (Green Factor, Piloo, 2009) is kind of Irish, has a Celt vibe." So she passed the baptism of Fire in Russia. But for the Brecker Brothers band, that was it for a time.

"We just put it away for a while. We found out how sick he was. I just shelved it. I did projects with orchestra. The Danish Radio Big band. One of the last times we played together was the WDR big band. Then I did a thing in Brazil. That project came out, Randy in Brasil (Mama Records, 2008. Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Jazz Album). I had stuff coming out, but I wasn't proactively doing anything. Until (producer) Jeff Levenson called."

Brecker had gone back to writing more and Levenson wanted to get the trumpeter booked at the Blue Note in New York City. Brecker wasn't thinking Brecker Brothers. But maybe it was inevitable. Perhaps his legacy was calling.

Levenson "wanted to feature me with whatever I wanted to do, which was a once-of-year project. The Blue Note kind of has a list that they want you to call [as sidemen]. I wasn't completely free to call anyone I wanted. They started talking about this person and that person. I started making some calls. Some guys could do it, some guys couldn't. It turned out the rhythm section, in particular, were all ex-Brecker Brothers Band members. I looked at the personnel and said, 'Jeff, maybe you could, as a subtext, [in the promotion] mention that everybody used to play in the band at one time or another. I had Will Lee on bass, Dave Weckl on drums. George Whitty, who produced the records in the '90s, on keyboards. Mike Stern on guitar. The next thing I know, on the marquee it says 'Brecker Brothers Band Reunion.'"

They may well have played selections from the Verdi opera, "La Forza Del Destino," "the power of fate."


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