Randy Brecker’s Uncut DownBeat Blindfold Test

Went to the Blue Note last note to hear Randy Brecker and the “Brecker Brothers Reunion Band,” for a DownBeat caught piece. I won’t give away the goods on what transpired, except to say that no one is playing more trumpet than the elder Brecker brother, who unfailingly cuts to the chase with a fluent virtuosity that has the feel of Freddie Hubbard circa, say, 1972.

Seems like a good time to run the uncut version of the Blindfold Test we did in 2008.

Randy Brecker Blindfold Test (Raw):

1.   Marcus Printup, “Hot House” (from PEACE IN THE ABSTRACT, Steeplechase, 2006) (Printup, trumpet; Greg Tardy, tenor saxophone; Kengo Nakamura, bass; Shinnosuke Takahashi, drums; Tadd Dameron, composer)

Obviously, “Hot House,” which is no easy task to perform. No piano. Sounds like a contemporary take on it, which is interesting. Maybe something Russell Gunn might do. It’s a good solo, good feel. Russell would probably be my first guess. My second guess would be Roy, but it’s not quite Roy’s sound. Not Russell? Well, I like pianoless quartets. There’s a lot of open space in this, and they have a very nice feel. If it’s not Russell, it’s somebody who has what I call a really good jazz trumpet sound, and he’s listened to the tradition of the instrument. The tenor player sounds like somebody I know, but I can’t quite place it. Let’s see if I get it on the fours. No, you got me. The tenor had a little Lovano in there, but it’s not him, and I can’t quite place the trumpet player. But both were excellent soloists, both could utilize the full range of their instruments and play great within the bebop tradition with a hint of modernity with the arrangement, which is completely contemporary. For execution and musicality, 4 stars. There wasn’t anything I suppose amazingly original, but it was really well-done and swinging. I have no idea who the bass player or drummer was. It could have been Tain maybe.

2.   Enrico Rava, “Felipe” (from THE THIRD MAN, ECM, 2007) (Rava, trumpet; Stefano Bollani, piano; Moacir Santos, composer)

Nice trumpet sound. Maybe a little too much reverb on the trumpet, on the recording. It might be one of those audiophile recordings with one microphone in the church. The pianist has a very nice, light touch, which I like. Also a nice in-and-out harmonic sense. The trumpet player has a really nice, open trumpet sound, probably some classical training. But I’m finding it hard to nail down who it is or what the tune is either. Boy, you got me on that one, but once again, it was a very nice performance, for me kind of a strange recording, probably a really large, open room, or maybe they added a little too much reverb, but it was a really good performance and, whatever the tune is, very well-written—maybe it’s an original. Moacir Santos? Ah. I’d say 4 stars. I enjoyed both the solos, and the trumpet player’s tone. He constantly came up with ideas. Enrico? That’s interesting. I played with Enrico in the ‘60s, but I still know him more as a less harmonic, free player. We were both at the time heavily influenced by Don Cherry, and that’s how I remember him. I know his playing has changed a lot in the ensuing years, and he practices more. I remember hearing an interview where he… You can tell that he spends a lot of time on the instrument. His tone is completely different than it used to be. A very, very nice tone. ECM? For me, there’s still a little too much reverb on that one.

3.  Tom Harrell, “Va” (from LIGHT ON, High Note, 2007) (Harrell, trumpet, composer; Wayne Escoffery, tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett, piano; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Jonathan Blake, drums)

Sounds like an original composition with difficult changes. The trumpet player is doing a good job of negotiating the changes, so maybe it’s his tune. Man, this tune just keeps going and going! I’m waiting for the changes to stop for a second. But they’re doing a good job with it. Conversely, recording-wise, for my taste, this is a little too dry-sounding. The trumpet player has a nice, light touch, really relaxed. I have no idea who it is yet. I’d probably like to hear this tune open up somewhere in the tune. It’s a lot of chords. All in all, I like the tune, the melody, but again, I feel harmonically there should have been some kind of open section, especially with the three solos. The solos were all good. The trumpet player was kind of influenced by Miles. It was a little too locked in for me to kind of tell who anybody was. 3½ stars. Tom Harrell? So that’s Wayne Escoffery. That’s pretty good. Once again, it didn’t sound like my conception of Tom. That was Tom’s tune, obviously. Good tune, but I wouldn’t want to play on it.

4.   Avishai Cohen, “Gigi et Amelie” (from Third World Love, NEW BLUES, Anzic, 2007) (Cohen, trumpet, composer; Yonathan Avishai, piano; Omer Avital, bass; Daniel Freedman, drums)

Nice tune. I wonder who this is. Maybe composed by somebody in the band. Doesn’t sound like American guys. Maybe South American. Charming comes to mind, the way they’re playing the tune. This is a charming rendition, heartfelt. Once again, it’s a nice, open trumpet sound. It’s hard to hear the sound with the Harmon mute before. I don’t think it’s him, but it has somewhat of a Kenny Wheeler vibe, though I don’t think it’s him. Another Italian guy? For some reason, I don’t even know why I say this, but I was thinking Argentina. Anyway, it was a really pretty tune and they played it well. 4 stars. Avishai? I was a little off geographically. I just heard Avishai at the Blue Note a couple of nights ago and he sounded really good. But it’s hard to make the connection. So far, everyone’s sound is very nice, but it’s hard to pick out individuals in general—but that’s a sign of the times. Now, I just heard the same group a couple of nights ago at the late night set at the Blue Note, and they sounded very good, so maybe I should have recognized it. Plus, they have the same name, so if they married each other it would be good.

5.  Graham Haynes, “Oshogbo” (from Adam Rudolph, DREAM GARDEN, Justin Time, 2008) (Rudolph, percussion; Haynes, cornet; Ned Rothenberg, alto saxophone; Hamid Drake, drumset, percussion; Kenny Wessel, electric guitar; Steve Gorn, bansuri bamboo flute; Shantir Blumenkrantz, acoustic bass; Adam Rudolph, hand drumset)

Interesting voicings, first of all. It’s an adventurous tune, adventurous voicings and conception. It’s very modern in conception in comparison to the other things I’ve heard. A trumpet player I’ve played with, whose name is Amir El-Saffar, has a group that might be similar in conception. But I need to hear it. It didn’t quite sound like him; he has a little more traditional trumpet technique. But I have no idea who it is. Conceptually it’s very interesting, taking it out on a limb. It was for the most part in 7, but it was broken up quite originally. Now it’s going to another place. It might be some guys who aren’t American again—not that it matters. Interesting writing. I liked it. 4 stars for the originality. It didn’t ever quite get to the next level for me, but it was quite interesting. It was nice to hear something different.

6.   Jim Rotondi, “Mamacita” (from THE PLEASURE DOME, SharpNine, 2004) (Rotondi, trumpet; David Hazeltine, piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums)

I think that’s a flugelhorn. Somebody influenced by Freddie. Is this a Kenny Dorham tune? Oh, it’s a Joe Henderson-Kenny Dorham record, but I can’t think of the name. Ah, yes, “Mamacita.” They’re getting a good groove. My wild guess would be Jeremy Pelt playing flugelhorn. Not Jeremy? Somebody like that. A lot of chops, a lot of good ideas. That’s a nice reharmonization of the tune. Like I said earlier, they had a nice groove; the drummer has a nice sound, kind of Tony-ish. Well, somebody in there… It’s not Eddie Henderson. But somebody who listens to a lot of the same people I do. 4 stars. [AFTER] Those guys are all really consistent players, and they know how to lay it down. It threw me for a loop because I’m used to hearing Rotondi play trumpet with more of a Freddie sound. Strangely enough, for a second, on one phrase, I thought of Arturo Sandoval. I knew it wasn’t him. But Jim is an excellent and really consistent player. I always enjoy listening to him.

7.  Bill Dixon-Tony Oxley, “Sine Qua Non” (from PAPYRUS, VOL.1, Soul Note, 1999) (Bill Dixon, trumpet, composer; Tony Oxley, drums & percussion)

I’m not sure who this is. It’s an interesting piece. Trumpet and drums. It doesn’t quite sound like they’re listening to each other. The drummer has a lot of chops, but just kind of streamrolling over what the trumpet player’s doing. For me, this might make a nice intro, but for a whole piece it’s wearing a little thin. Wild guess. Bill Dixon. He’s another guy I came upon and played with a couple of times when I first came to New York. As I said, this might make a nice introduction, but it’s leaving me kind of cold. Ah, that’s a Bill Dixon there right there. It’s getting more intense. We’ll see how intense it gets. Slow build. The drummer’s arms must be getting tired by now? Who is it? Tony Oxley? Dixon also pioneered in the electronic sounds that he’s doing now. Now it sounds like they’re listening to each other. But maybe that was the point, that they not listen to each other. I might give it 2½ by the end. It just took too long to get into something for me, but that’s just my opinion. If I was playing, it might be a different story. It’s a whole other perspective when you’re actually playing like that. You actually lose time.

8.  Mike Rodriguez, “Guayaquil” (The Rodriguez Brothers, CONVERSATIONS, Savant, 2007) (Mike Rodriguez, trumpet; Robert Rodriguez, piano; Ricardo Rodriguez, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums)

Nice tune. It’s nice how they’re using the piano almost as a second horn, and the right hand of the piano blended nicely with the trumpet melody. Nice harmony. The trumpet player is doing a really good job of negotiating the changes. Hard tune. Nice warm trumpet sound. It’s obviously contemporary guys. I like the chord progression. I like the tune. The performance is very good. I’ll just throw out George Cables for piano? I don’t know. I’m not sure who the trumpet player is yet. It’s coming out of that period we all grew up in. Got me again. I could hazard a few wild guesses. It sounds like somebody I should know, too. Something in the vibrato and the tone struck me, but I can’t place it, and I can’t tell if it’s a younger guy or maybe a slightly older guy, but I think it might be a slightly older guy. Something about the conception makes me think that—at least the piano player. But I can’t place it. I liked it. It didn’t really jump out at me. But 3½ stars. It was really well-done. Everybody had a lot of chops and performed it really well. If I had to make a wild guess, Nicholas Payton, a younger guy. But somebody of that ilk. [AFTER] I’ve heard a lot about Mike Rodriguez. I haven’t heard him yet. Antonio is a wonderful drummer and he was right in the pocket on that one. You’re getting me on all these guys, but everything I’ve heard I’ve enjoyed so far. It’s amazing, the amount of musicianship that goes into all these records. Trumpet is not an easy instrument, and everybody sounds great.

9.   Corey Wilkes, “Quintet Nine” (from Roscoe Mitchell, TURN, RogueArt, 2005) (Wilkes, trumpet; Mitchell, flute, percussion; Craig Taborn, piano; Jaribu Shahid, bass, percussion; Tani Tabbal, drums)

I’m trying to figure out what instrument that is—a high slide whistle or a piccolo. This is the second tune in 7, so that’s a real popular time signature these days. It’s an interesting, moody, kind of evocative arrangement, an evocative piece. Maybe somebody like Jack Walrath, but it’s probably not him. They were all coasting along together. It meandered a bit, I think. I like things happening quicker. This section is nice. I still can’t figure out if that’s a piccolo or a high slide whistle. It’s an interesting tune, though. There’s a little Eric Dolphy influence in general, but Jack Walrath is the only one who came to mind—it’s not him, I can tell. The composition is interesting. 3 stars. I’m not familiar with Corey Wilkes’ work, but it’s an interesting piece.

10.   Dave Ballou, “Tenderly” (from REGARDS, Steeplechase, 2004) (Ballou, trumpet; Frank Kimbrough, piano; John Hebert, bass; Randy Peterson, drums)

A nice, pure, unfettered trumpet sound. I like that. No vibrato. Nailing it. Except it’s probably a flugelhorn. Nice, floaty time, too, with regards to the rhythm section; nice and open, a lot of room for interpretation. This is interesting in the way they’re playing time but not playing time. An interesting conception. I like this in the respect that they’re all really listening to each other, and both harmonically and rhythmically it’s floating along. Really interesting. Kind of a Paul Bley influence on the piano, just the overall picture. There’s a record of Paul’s I used to love called Closer. It’s still interesting, because it doesn’t sound like they want to play the time. I hope there’s not supposed to be time during this section, but it’s still interesting. It’s really open. This is the way Paul Bley used to play with his trio when they first came to New York with Barry Altschul and Mark Levinson on bass—this kind of implied time. A really nice reinterpretation of the melody by the flugelhorn player. Really sensitive all around. Everybody really listened to each other. But I don’t have any idea who anyone is. He ended on a high-E, I think, on flugel—that’s no easy trick. Somebody I probably know, but probably not. 4 stars. It was a really original reading of the tune, and I’m impressed when people are that sensitive and really come up with something new on a standard that’s been played a million times. [AFTER] I played with Dave Ballou years ago on a Kenny Werner project, and I’ve always been impressed with his playing.

11.   Nicholas Payton, “Fela II” (from SONIC TRANCE, Warner, 2003) (Payton, trumpet; Kevin Hays, keyboards; Vicente Archer, bass; Adonis Rose, drums; Daniel Sadownick, percussion)

This has a nice, polyrhythmic quality to it, just from the getgo. Once again, a nice warm trumpet sound. Some of these guys I’m not familiar with, and it’s somewhat hard to differentiate one from the other, but everyone’s technique has been admirable today. The trumpet player has really good range and facility, good ideas. Generally, this piece reminds of Miles’ band, the Bitches Brew days, especially the sounds coming out of the keyboard. It’s a little more metrically modulated than were tunes in those days. But everyone’s listening and responding to each other really well. Really good facility on the trumpet. Clark exercises. But once again, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to who it was. I don’t know if it’s someone I know, but he had a lot of facility on the instrument. Good sound. Interesting piece. 3½ stars. [AFTER] Oh, that’s from Sonic Trance. I should have guessed it. Nick is one of my favorite players. He has so much facility on the instrument. This was a radical shift from what he was doing before. I remember when he did it. I actually heard this live. Was Kevin Hays playing? Yes, he was there. I heard him in New Orleans at Snug Harbor. So I should have guessed.

12.   Ryan Kisor, “Deception” (from THE DREAM, Criss-Cross, 2001) (Kisor, trumpet; Peter Zak, piano; John Webber, bass; Willie Jones, III, drums)

Whoever it is has amazing technique. That’s a hard head. The changes to “Cherokee.” Amazing facility. Wow, that was very, very good. I’ll hazard a guess. Ryan Kisor maybe? Whoa! He’s too good. That was exceptional facility. I’ve also heard Wynton play this tune, like, 50 choruses, which is very impressive, so I figured if it wasn’t Wynton it might very well be Ryan. He’s an exceptional player in all realms—great lead player, great soloist, knows all the styles. He’s one of my favorites. I’ve played with him a lot in Mingus Big Band. Wow, that was great. 4½ stars. Well, 5 stars just on Ryan’s virtuosity, but maybe take a half-star away because I’ve heard the tune a million times, but never quite like that. He’s an incredible all-around player.

All these records were very good. It’s a reality these days that it is harder to tell guys apart trumpetistically, because we all study out of the same books, and there’s a certain trumpetistic artistry that’s prevalent these days. So it’s harder to pick people apart, but that’s overshadowed by the musicianship on all these records, which was really excellent. That’s always my answer to the problem these days, when guys say, “Ah, too many guys sound alike.” I say the musicianship is so high it doesn’t matter.

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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat

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