ALBUMS: Jazz’s Brassiest Power Couple Brings The Family On Sacred Bond

Legendary trumpet player Randy Brecker and wife Ada Rovatti shine on vibrant new collection of faves from the Rovatti catalog

Randy Brecker/Ada Rovatti Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond, Piloo 2019

Artist: Randy Brecker/Ada Rovatti

Album: Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond

Label: Piloo

★★★★ (4/5 stars)


Randy Brecker is a certified legend. A professional since the mid-sixties, the trumpeter has racked up a truly stunning number of credits in the jazz, rock, R&B and pop fields.

His Discogs page lists almost 1400 recorded performances with a dizzying array of artists – it seems like nearly everyone in the seventies and eighties employed Brecker (often with his late saxophone genius brother Michael) for at least one track at some point. Plus he was a founding member of pioneering jazz rock bands Blood, Sweat & Tears and Dreams, as well as co-leading the popular fusion act the Brecker Brothers. Since his sibling’s death, he’s made a good dozen albums as a leader, mostly for European and Japanese labels, exploring Brazilian jazz, big band music, and more. 

For Sacred Bond, Brecker co-leads once again in partnership with family – in this case, his wife Ada Rovatti. The Italian-born saxophonist and Berklee alum has an impressive session career of her own, featuring appearances with John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin and more, plus five albums as a leader. On this record, she shares more with her husband than just joining him in the frontline – the album features exclusively her compositions as well. It’s a showcase not only for the couple’s telepathic interplay, but how well one interprets the other’s musical vision.

Randy Brecker by Ron Hart

“Reverence,” the third track here, sets a fine example of the duo’s work together. Inspired by each musician’s work with Aretha Franklin, the tune sits atop an easy-going soul groove, funky but never slipping into mindless dance thump. Over a foundation constructed by pianist David Kikoski, bassist Alex Claffy and drummer Rodney Holmes, the horn players float melodies that eschew devilish complication for accessibility, catching the ear at first, before impressing with their sophistication. (As Brecker says in the liner notes, Rovatti’s songs sound easy to play, but they’re not.) The way the track is layered bespeaks a lot of thought given to its construction, far more than necessary to create simple sonic wallpaper. It’s the kind of tune that could easily melt into fuzak, but it never does – comparisons to maverick composer Carla Bley’s early eighties work would not be off the mark.  

Ada Rovatti by Ron Hart

Not everything follows the fusion path. “The Queen of Bibelot” goes for straight hard bop, swinging hard and boasting strong lead breaks from Rovatti and Brecker. “Britches Brew,” too, leans more toward jazz than rock, adding second keyboardist Jim Beard and letting all the soloists (including guest guitarist Adam Rogers) stretch out and find pure expression. The pair’s affinity for lush Brazilian grooves powers “Helping Hand” and “The Other Side of the Coin,” while “Mirror” sets up a player’s paradise for lots of burning solos. Perhaps the record’s masterpiece, “Baggage” combines lovely ballad work with more swinging funk, and features exceptional solos from Brecker and Kikoski (perhaps the album’s MVP) over its ten-minute running time. 

Sacred Bond could have just been a vanity project, the kind of public second honeymoon that induces more cringes than smiles. But the couple at the heart of the album treat each other as creative partners, not spouses, pushing each other to greater musical heights. It helps that Rovatti turned in an expert batch of tunes, of course, and combined with the players’ taste and skill, the music plumbs depths neither leader could’ve reached alone. 

 

AUDIO: Randy Brecker/Ada Rovatti Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond, Piloo 2019

 

Michael Toland

Michael Toland has been writing about music for various fan- and magazines since 1988, including Austin Chronicle, Blurt, The Big Takeover, Trouser Press Record Guide (online), Pop Culture Press, Amplifier, Sleazegrinder, Austin-American Statesman, Austinist, Austincitysearch, Goldmine, FHT Music Notes and, from 2001–2006, his own website, High Bias. As might be surmised by the number of times “Austin” appears in the above list, he lives in Austin, Texas.

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