Randy Brecker and the NDR Bigband - Rocks

by Tree Palmedo

While Randy Brecker’s most enduring legacy in the public eye may always be his work as co-leader (with his late brother Michael) of the tight funk ensemble known as the Brecker Brothers, he has also nurtured a lengthy, multifaceted career as a trumpeter, improviser, and composer. This date, a studio recording featuring Hamburg’s Radio Jazz Orchestra, does not shy away from the Brecker Brothers’ towering discography, but it also casts a wide net, expanding and illuminating original Brecker compositions from throughout the trumpeter’s several-decade career. 

It’s a thrill to hear these compositions, many of them as technical as they are funky, expanded into full brass-and-woodwind orchestrations complete with keyboard tones straight out of 1981. The aptly titled album opener “First Tune of the Set” is a burning number in the vein of classic Brecker Brothers, with ample space for the trumpeter himself to shine. Brecker’s polished post-bop playing is as sharp as ever, and his fiery lines are driven to further heights as he trades with the agile interjections of fellow Brecker Brothers alum and saxophone star David Sanborn. Elsewhere on the album, the tenor saxophone chair that Michael Brecker once occupied is ably filled by Ada Rovatti, Randy Brecker’s wife and a formidable tenor talent in her own right. On the spaced-out fusion number “Squids,” Rovatti steals the show, taking an extended solo in the middle of the piece that builds to a screaming climax and showcases Rovatti’s brilliant tone.

Other moments, like the ballad “Sozinho,” are more delicate and showcase the orchestra’s impeccable intonation and dense, impressionistic arrangements. 

The album ends on the gospel-ish waltz “Threesome,” a welcome change of pace after the dense grooves and harmonies of the rest of the album. While there are still harmonic shades of 1980s fusion, this final track sends things off on a soulful note, capping an impressive showcase for both the lengthy career and continued excellence of a living trumpet legend.