Randy Brecker, Ronnie Scott’s, London

Sholto Byrnes,
“The Independent” (London),
September 14, 2006

If it has been Randy Brecker's misfortune to be overshadowed for most of his career by his brother Michael, one of the most admired tenor saxophonists, he's never seemed to mind that much. Perhaps that's because he's in good company' there's Stanley Turren-tine and his trumpeter brother Tommy, or Nat Adderley, the cornet-playing sibling of Cannonball. 

It could also be because he is the possessor of a gorgeous trumpet sound and a set of chops that allows him to make whatever he plays sound easy. In fashion or not, musicians know the elder Brecker brother's worth. Here, he was accompanied by a quartet led by one Igor Butman, Russia's leading tenor saxophonist. The group had just flown in from Kazakhstan. 

At first it seemed as though Brecker (who is still a very famous player, both in his own right and as co-leader with Michael of their 1970s fusion band) was doing Butman a favour by performing alongside him. The Russians did not sound totally au fait with developments in jazz over the last decade or so, and played Brecker's inside- outside bop compositions as though they were as new as they must have sounded when the trumpeter first cropped up in Horace Silver's quintet in the late 1960s. 

But the benefits of this relative lack of sophistication soon showed. From the insistent ride cymbal of the drummer, cracking on the beat in Brecker's "Shanghai", to the strenuous efforts of the double bassist, what shone through was that they really meant it. The music mattered deeply to them, precisely because it did sound contemporary in their hands. 

Butman's tone was as pleasingly weathered as his sax looked. With his energy and ferocity, he came across as a man who might have spent the last week listening at the feet of Joe Henderson. Of course, he hadn't' Henderson's been dead five years. But the group seemed to have a direct connection to the earthiness of bop and post- bop that smoother Western groups have lost. The rawness bred excitement, and the quintet produced some fiery, compelling playing.

They finished with Brecker's greatest hit, that twisting bundle of licks titled "Some Skunk Funk", but changed all its constituent rock and funk rhythms to uptempo swing. That too, sounded fresh. No wonder Randy Brecker looked highly contented.