Randy Brecker Review

By Theresa Johnson

It was that time of year again to dig the lawn chairs out of the garage and head down to the Louisville Bluegrass and American MusicFest, where we could masquerade as tie-dyed hippies for a day.

The smorgasbord of national acts was a treat: Andy Narell, Hiram Bullock, Mike Stern and Bob Berg, Jon Faddis, Terrence Simien, Marcia Ball and Randy Brecker.

Brecker is an artist deeply rooted in the jazz tradition. He learned to play the trumpet by listening to records and copying the phrasing of Chet Baker and Miles Davis. Early on, he played with such big bands as those lead by Clark Terry, Duke Pearson and Chuck Israels.

He helped form the jazz-rock fusion group Blood, Sweat & Tears, breaking with the band in 1969, just before "Spinning Wheel" came out. In the mid-'70s he performed funk and fusion with brother Michael in the Brecker Brothers band. Today Randy Brecker enjoys being a free-lance trumpeter, yet he still likes jamming with the likes of Conrad Herwig and Dr. John.

Brecker's rhythm section for Saturday's performance included Vince Lovick on bass, an ever-youthful Rodney Holms on drums, Barry Finnarity on guitar, and Brecker on trumpet. Musical selections included "Hurdy-Gurdy," "The Sleaze Factor," "There's a Mingus a Monk Us," "Above and Beyond," and a tune written by guitarist Finnarity entitled "One for the Road."

"Hurdy-Gurdy" opened with an ominous guitar and trumpet vamp, showcasing Finnarity's jazz/rock style, which took me back to his days with Miles Davis, on the "Man with a Horn" album. The second tune, "The Sleaze Factor," was dedicated to people in the music business who are living in large urban areas. Indeed, the monotonous drone of the rhythm section, in stark contrast to Brecker's quirky, staccato phrasing did sound like sleazy background music, reminiscent of "The Mod Squad" (or any other '70s cops and robbers shoot 'em up.) "There's a Mingus a Monk Us" featured some pretty dizzy trumpet solos along with alternating Monk and Mingus phrases.

"Above and Beyond" began with a sweet, slightly classical trumpet and guitar duet that quickly dissolved into hard-driving fusion. My favorite selection, "One for the Road," was another high-energy freak-out song, but this piece had a decidedly Latin persuasion. Once again, after the opening bars, Brecker, like some musical Tazmanian devil, unleashed a churning, whirling, relentless and high-intensity style of fusion.

During the concert I was impressed with how skillfully Brecker used electronic gadgetry. Having thought electronic gimmicks were a crutch for the inept musician, I made the discovery that in the hands of a master like Brecker, synthesizers, wa-wa pedals and what not actually complement an artist's talent. Randy Brecker has been described as "a versatile and ubiquitous trumpeter," and he has been compared to Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis. Down Beat magazine hails him as having "An upbeat, constantly optimistic atmosphere." I second the motion!

By the close of the show I had a new-found appreciation for this trumpet dynamo sporting red horn-rimmed glasses. The rhythm section did a superb job as well, although the drummer didn't look old enough to hold a job.

One piece of advice for anyone writing a music review - go incognito so that your rowdy, drunken friends won't sniff you out - this happened to my husband twice.