September 13, 2006
The American trumpeter Randy Brecker oozes the urbane professionalism of a touring jazz musician in demand for studio work. His 40-year career spans Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen, headlining jazz- fusion with Funkadelic and his own Brecker Brothers band, and a plethora of jazz greats. He made his first appearance at Ronnie Scott’s with the pianist Horace Silver’s quintet in 1968, having just left the jazz-rock supergroup Blood, Sweat and Tears to get more musical freedom.
The contrast with the 45-year-old Russian saxophonist Igor Butman, largely unknown in the UK, could hardly be greater. First impressions are of a youthful enthusiast, but scratch the surface, and there is a steely professionalism in the execution that matches the American note for note, even on a wickedly fast take on Brecker’s signature “Some Skunk Funk”.
But then Butman is a jazz star in Russia, and musical director of Moscow’s biggest jazz club. While in the US from 1987 to 1995 he racked up credits with jazz heavyweights such as Dave Brubeck and Grover Washington Jnr.
Although Butman’s arsenal of slurs, vibratos and flourishes harks back to the blues-laden dance bands of the 1950s, his demanding repertoire was largely provided by Randy Brecker and was firmly in the contemporary, playfully funky, rhythmically tricky mainstream, with lots of space for soloists. And both musicians have a strong sense of melody and build exciting, signposted solos.
Contrasting ballads came from Butman and his Russian rhythm section: “Nostalgie”, a showboating feature, and “Beauty Is So Far”, delightfully elegiac. The pianist Anton Baronin’s overall fluency impressed and the sense that the rhythm section was occasionally about to gallop over a cliff added to the excitement.