|Randy Brecker and Ada Rovatti|
Photo Credit: Andrew Lepley/Berks Jazz Fest, Reading, PA
Brecker Brothers Band Reunion
(Ronnie Scott’s, 22nd July 2014 (first of three nights). Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
In recent years, Randy Brecker has played and recorded with a wide range of cohorts from the past in the Brecker Brothers Band Reunion. Now – along with his wife, the Italian saxophone player Ada Rovatti - the four surviving principal members of the group that produced the album Heavy Metal Bebop in the late ‘70s have reconvenedfor a 15-date European tour.
At Ronnie Scott’s, the quintet delivered two 50-minute sets of spirited jazz/soul/funk that included several favourites from the old days, some newer material, and a couple of surprises.
Sporting his trademark Kangol cap, 68-year-old Brecker kicked off with a punchy Sponge. His incisive phrases and fiery tone were an immediate reminder that, despite his pedigree and relatively high profile, he is often under-appreciated as a trumpet stylist (and he’s also the band’s main composer). The second piece, First Tune of the Set was introduced with suitable humour and came with astonishingly accurate work from guitarist Barry Finnerty.
Thoughts of the great Michael Brecker were never far away, and – seven years after his death - the music composed or inspired by him gained a special poignancy. Straphangin’ was written during New York’s crippling subway strike in 1980, and it was one of the highlights of the gig. Despite a heavy cold, Rovatti played well and braved an unaccompanied passage on Funky Sea, Funky Dew. Finnerty’s ballad Mikey B – conceived immediately after a memorial gathering at New York’s Town Hall - was an affectionate tribute.
Although he was rarely featured, Neil Jason provided a rock-solid foundation and a powerful swing on electric bass. Drummer Terry Bozzio may have had fewer than the 53 cymbals in “The Big Kit” described on his website, but his hardware obscured him from much of the audience. He made a phenomenal noise, and worked incredibly hard on Some Skunk Funk as parts of the melody were negotiated at the same time as the complex rhythms.
Mose Allison’s philosophical and funny I Don’t Worry about a Thing was completely unexpected. Led by Finnerty’s grainy singing, it also contained a substantial, electronically-enhanced solo by Brecker. Rovatti’s airy, spacious sound came to the fore again during her own Ghost Stories, and she shone alongside her husband on the boiling unison line that introduced Rocks. Towards the end, East River was dominated by Jason’s vocals and a wonderful repetitive bass riff. The bluesy boogaloo of Inside Out brought this exciting performance to a close.
With this line-up of the Brecker Brothers Band Reunion, one’s thoughts of a “replacement” for an irreplaceable figure were largely avoided. Rovatti lacked the devastating drive and supreme fluency of her celebrated brother-in-law, but her warm tone and expansive approach complemented the controlled frenzy of her colleagues very well indeed. The passion and verve that distinguished the best editions of the Brecker Brothers Band was brilliantly retained.