Trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Ada Rovatti came through town Saturday night to play a mix of originals and standards with some of the local heavyweights. Drummer Dave Calarco, bassist John Menegon and guitarist Matt Finck filled out the group nicely.
The sole female member of the group, Rovatti was endearingly referred to as “the secret weapon” by her husband and bandleader, Brecker. Her tenor sound is often dark and mysterious, but can be soulful and bluesy, or cutting and edgy. This is in contrast to her tone on the soprano, which is round and beautiful without any of the annoying edge that is so often associated with that instrument, and which even more well-known proponents of the instrument fall prey to.
The interplay between Brecker and Rovatti came off with ease. They know how to accompany each other, and their interplay is truly conversational. The same could be said of the whole group. The expert sidemen were all gifted soloists in their own right, and there was space enough for everybody to show off their chops. Finck stuck mostly to single-note lines but was able to provide jarring intervals and sweeping strokes.
The most original composition of the evening was Rovatti’s tune “Stuntman,” which came to a false ending, and the crowd started applauding before the group went into a 14/8 groove. Rovatti played soprano on this one, and although Brecker played the melody on trumpet, he picked up the flugelhorn for the solo. Finck’s guitar part switched between chordal playing and set single-note lines that juxtaposed the horn players’ melodies.
“There’s a Mingus Amongus” was a playful gesture towards what a Monk and Mingus collaboration might have sounded like. The staccato dot-dot-daaaaaaa figures were reminiscent of “Monk’s Dream,” but the way the melody meandered with Debussey-like lyricism was of course reminiscent of Charles Mingus’ writing.
Brecker definitely has trumpet chops and can blow lines that can only be played on trumpet, but he can also make it sing. This is something that he and Rovatti definitely have in common: the ability to flow seamlessly between soul and bop. He would blow a line and then literally pull the horn away from his face, nodding his head digging the rhythm section and contemplating his next move. It is this use of space that really shows his seasoned-pro-ness. He has the relaxed, strong mind that great soloists aspire to.
Another notable tune of the evening was Brecker’s “The Marble Sea,” about the Mediterranean. The light clave from Calarco, and the openly strummed guitar give this tune the feeling of being gently sprayed with seawater while speeding along in a little boat on a blindingly bright day on the Mediterranean. Rovatti flowed along, playing her alternatingly soulful and boppish lines, and was able to work in some rhythmic stutters, which Calarco immediately picked up on and carried through.
After playing a run of originals, the group decided to play “Have You Met Miss Jones.” Brecker turned to the members of the group and jokingly asked, “You guys know this one?” It is one of the most standard pieces of jazz literature. The group then finished with an original blues called “Dirty Dogs,” which Brecker “dedicated to musicians the world over.”