The Jazz Ballad Song Book (Half Note Records)

Randy Brecker with DR Big Band

Released July 19, 2011

Grammy Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2012




Randy Brecker has been on the scene for over four decades. After studying classical trumpet at Indiana University, Randy joined Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and then Horace Silver’s quintet. Following forays into big band, fusion and funk, Brecker teamed with his late brother, saxophonist Michael, on the Brecker Brothers, who concentrated on funk in the late 70s. However, for over the last two plus decades, Randy has concentrated on bop and hard bop.

On his latest release, Randy gets the rare opportunity (always hard to pass up) to be the guest soloist behind a big band and chamber orchestra. Focusing on the jazz ballad song book with eight out of the ten selections being true standards, Brecker gets a chance to explore his lyrical side. Danish Big Band members arranged nearly all the tracks and most tracks have solos by band members. However, the focus is on Randy’s playing and Brecker is easily up to the task.

The project is conducted by Michael Bojesen, and noted Danish bass player Chris Minh Doky produced this CD. The Chamber Orchestra provides sympathetic backing for Brecker, and at times the CD has a classical orchestra hall feel with guest big band and soloist. Think dress suits and a toney setting, though this CD was recorded at DR Byen studio in Copenhagen in January, 2010.

The Big Band is made up of five trumpets (besides Brecker), and five each of trombone and reeds. There is a straight four-piece rhythm section with guitar. Brecker plays over the instrumentalists on the tracks. His playing is center stage, with the Big Band and Orchestra getting equal footing. There is a lushness on tracks like “Cry Me a River,” “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Skylark” that is warm and inviting. Brecker’s lyrical skills are round, warm, and crystal clear in the mid-register range. Film favorites “Goldfinger” and “The Immigrant/ Godfather” are included, with especially the latter adding a nourish dreamy quality that adds to the accessibility of this release. Even Monk is taken on with strings on “Round Midnight” and several of the tracks would fit in well on a movie set or outdoor bowl concert setting.

Track Listing:

1. All or Nothing at All (Arthur Altman) 7:55

(Randy Brecker, Grammy Nominee for Best Improvised Jazz Solo 2012)

2. Cry Me a River (Arthur Hamilton) 5:20

3. Someday My Prince Will Come (Frank Churchill) 7:00

4. Foregone Conclusion (Randy Brecker) 6:29

5. Goldfinger (John Barry) 5:23

6. Skylark (Hoagy Carmichael) 7:39

7. I Talk to the Trees (Randy Brecker) 6:24

8. This Is All I Ask (Gordon Jenkins) 8:18

9. The Immigrant/Godfather (Nino Rota) 8:13

10. ‘Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk) 7:51


The Danish Radio Big Band

Conducted by Michael Bojensen

Additional Orchestra:

The Danish National Chamber Orchestra

Special Guest:

Randy Brecker: trumpet

Recorded January, 2010, at DR Byen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Produced by Chris Minh Doky


On The Jazz Ballad Song Book, trumpeter Randy Brecker, the Danish Radio Big Band and Danish National Chamber Orchestra approach the slow, wistful side of this repertoire as one dimension among others. They expand their view outside of standards to include film works, lesser-known tunes and original compositions. 
As featured soloist, Brecker displays the colossal tone, impeccable chops and searching impulses that have gifted bands from those led by pianist Horace Silver to singer Bruce Springsteen. His drive makes “All Or Nothing At All” a demand rather than a lament. He stretches out harmonically on his own tunes, with a funky bridge on “Foregone Conclusion” and a spacious theme for “I Talk To The Trees.” More traditional ballad settings on “Cry Me A River” and “Skylark” showcase tenderness without sentimentality especially on “Skylark,” where Brecker recasts the melody in disillusioned long tones. 
Brecker stays extroverted, even as the intimacy of trumpeter Miles Davis’ 1961 Columbia recording looms over “Someday My Prince Will Come” (down to Wynton Kelly’s piano solo, orchestrated for strings and woodwinds). After a clear melody statement, Brecker opens up with packed runs and dejected crushes of dissonance. Per Gade’s milky guitar is an effective foil, taking as much pleasure dipping into the lower register as it does sailing into higher, Wes Montgomery-inspired territory. Jesper Riis’ arrangement also explores contrasts between bitter undertones in the strings and some Nelson Riddle-style shouting from the band.  Textured charts surround the trumpet heavyweight, flawlessly interpreted by the Danish groups and rarely settling into predictable accompaniment. Several soloists from the DR Big Band also get their own impressive say. Icy violins, biting sax counterpoint and a hard-edged swing on trombonist Peter Jensen’s setting of “All Or Nothing At All” torch any sentimental associations of the tune. Pelle Fridell’s baritone sax is heard in both half-time and double-time passages, along with allusions to modernist composers during an ominous deconstruction in triple meter. Occasionally some arrangements rely upon cliché, for example the syrupy, vibrato-laden violins of “The Immigrant/Godfather” or the rhythmic but otherwise generic introduction to “Goldfinger,” where John Barry’s theme proves better suited for screen heroics than studio improvisation. 
Yet these moments are few and far between original touches such as a chirpy piccolo leading the elephantine ensemble on “The Immigrant/Godfather,” the sleek surfaces of “I Talk To The Trees” or trombonist Vincent Nilsson’s arrangement of the little heard but affecting “This Is All I Ask.” Following Henrik Gunde’s piano, two tightly muted trumpets weave around Brecker’s open horn, with dark tuba and tapping triangle underneath. The effect is uncluttered, silken but strong, and builds beautiful tension, before the release of lush strings. When Brecker steps back from double-time for a few halting notes, the effect is similarly arresting. Peter Fuglsang’s smooth alto sax dueting with Brecker makes an ideal coda. 
Thelonious Monk’s beloved “Round Midnight” is a fitting end to any collection of ballads. Here it sports the slowest tempo on the disc, as well as the catchiest swing. The massive, transparent ensemble and Brecker’s subtle yet dynamic reimagining also sum up this album’s strengths (even if the superfluous Latin feel also points to its occasional excesses). The Jazz Ballad Song Book strikes a satisfying balance between re-imagined standards, tasteful explorations and straightforward big band brawn.

Andrew J. Sammut (AllAboutJazz)