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10

Randy Brecker: Hittin' It with "RandyPOP!"

Bob Kenselaar By

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I’m anxious to get back out on the road for a while and really hit it.
In his 62 years playing music—starting trumpet at eight years old—Randy Brecker has played all kinds of music, but for many years now, he's mostly been known as a solid, top-flight, first-call jazz player, a modern post-bop soloist and bandleader who carries around his old '70s fusion-funk Brecker Brothers fame in his back pocket. So, with a new CD called RandyPOP!, you might think he's changing direction entirely to make a foray into the land of Katy Perry or Justin Bieber or whoever is doing that stuff these days. But, no, with RandyPOP!, Brecker is staying on the jazz track, and, at the same time, delving into a sampling of the pop tunes he contributed to during his days as a studio musician starting back in the '70s, often working in tandem with his late brother Michael. The tunes are a point of departure for great performances by Brecker and the six musicians gathered for this live recording at the Blue Note in New York and some adventurous arrangements by the band's pianist, Kenny Werner.

Werner's arrangements really stand out, but Brecker is the clear leader here. The repertoire all comes from him, there's a clear focus on Brecker's memories, and his great solos are in the spotlight. But the idea for RandyPOP! didn't initially come from the trumpeter himself. In fact, the impetus for it, according to Brecker, came first from his wife, Ada Rovatti, a saxophonist who performs with him from time to time, although it's David Sanchez who plays sax on RandyPOP! Not long after his wife planted the seed, producer Jeff Levenson approached Brecker with the very same thought for recording live sessions at the Blue Note. Levenson had been behind another project that Brecker was involved with that also featured arrangements by Kenny Werner—The Delirium Blues Project: Serve or Suffer (Half Note, 2008) a live recording by vocalist Roseanna Vitro, which included tunes by Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and Tower of Power; Werner's arrangement of "What Is Hip" stands out in Brecker's mind in particular.

So, the idea percolated a bit, and then Brecker set out to make it happen, with Werner and Levenson's help. In addition to saxophonist Sanchez, they brought in John Patitucci on bass, Adam Rogers on guitar, and Nate Smith on drums. And considering that this was a pop music endeavor, where vocals figure prominently, he brought in his daughter, Amanda Brecker, a budding singer and songwriter who already has four commercial CDs to her name. Doing RandyPOP! as a live recording allowed him to include a little patter from the stage between songs that gives some background about each one, to share his memories and his wry sense of humor. The band played at the Blue Note for a week, and the recording on RandyPOP! is the last set of the last night at the club.

Brecker expounded further on those stories for All About Jazz and also filled us in on other recent recordings since the last article on him in our Catching Up With series.

The opener for RandyPOP! is "The New Frontier" by Donald Fagen, representing the work Randy and Michael Brecker did with Steely Dan, which Fagen co-led with Walter Becker. "We were pretty friendly with both of those guys and with Gary Katz," the producer on all of Steely Dan's recordings. "We got to the point where one of the guys from their office would call me and ask me to recommend players for the live band. So, I actually helped them put a couple bands together. I was kind of hoping they would ask me to play some live dates. But, I remember once I showed up to see a gig of theirs out on Long Island. I had recommended the whole sax section, Chris Potter among them. And Walter got on the mic and proudly said, 'we've just got saxophones—no trumpets.' I went backstage, and I said, 'OK, now I see where you're coming from.' They were great to work for, although they were so methodical the recording process was kind of tedious for us. But every one of those records is a first-class endeavor."

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