The Blindfold Test with Randy Brecker


“Don Cherry had his own original thing going on ... and you can’t duplicate it,” Randy Brecker says.

(Photo: Merri Cyr)

Randy Brecker has done four Blindfold Tests, according to DownBeat archives. This one was his first in a long time, conducted in his home studio in East Hampton, New York, where he had largely been holed up for nearly two years because of the COVID shutdowns — occasionally opening up his studio to some friends and jamming with his saxophonist wife, Ada Rovatti, who pairs with him in their quintet.

Kenny Dorham
“Lotus Blossom” (The Very Best Of Prestige Records, Prestige, 2009, rec’d 1959) Dorham, trumpet; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Arthur Taylor, drums.
Kenny Dorham, but I can’t remember the name of the tune. It’s something we all know. It’s “Lotus Blossom,” which was used in a Japanese opera. It was sung in Japanese, but the music was bebop. Kenny is one of my favorite players. It’s unparalleled in the way he gets the changes. I like the whole concept of the way he approached harmony. He’s got unique changes and a unique sound. He was the sweetest guy, soft-spoken. He was one of my favorite players. The way Rudy Van Gelder recorded these sessions you can hear the air in the room and not the reverb that many trumpeters want to use today. 5 stars.

Christian Scott
“New New Orleans (King Adjuah Stomp)” (Christian aTunde Adjuah, Concord, 2012) Scott, trumpet; Lawrence Fields, keyboards; Matthew Stevens, guitar; Kristopher Keith Funn, bass; Jamire Williams, drums.
Once again, this is not an easy tune to play. It’s probably that New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott. I’m a big fan. He’s got good range and breath control and a beautiful sound. I like how the composition is really modern. I recognize that because I have all his latest records. So it wasn’t hard for me to figure this one out because no one plays like he does. He’s got past, present and future all in his playing. This was 2012? So, he’s only getting better. 5 stars. He’s in his own category.

Art Farmer
“Art Cross” (ARTistry: The Art Farmer Quartet, Concord, 2001, recorded 1982) Farmer, flugelhorn; Fred Hersch, piano; Bob Bodley, bass; Billy Hart, drums.
This is a Charlie Parker tune that’s been reharmonized to make it modern. The trumpeter is playing really well. I’m not totally sure, but it could easily be Art Farmer with his flugelhorn and his Harmon mute to get that vibrato effect. The mute is what threw me off. He’s such a melodic player, I should have recognized him sooner. I was a big fan. He played right to end and kept getting better. Fred Hersch was great, too, reharmonizing the tune. 4½ stars.

Ambrose Akinmusire
“Mr. Roscoe (Consider The Simultaneous)” (On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment, Blue Note, 2020) Akinmusire, trumpet; Sam Harris, piano; Harish Raghavan, bass; Justin Brown, drums.
This is long-form. The player has a really warm sound. The more I heard, I realized that this guy has his own language, and he really gets around his horn. I’m a bebopper, but this piece is really well done even though I’d never have the nerve to do this. But it’s great to hear this kind of recording. The interaction between the players is flowing, and it’s in a forward motion. They all sound like they’re listening to one another. It’s not a lot of noise. At first thought, I was thinking of Kenny Wheeler, but I know it’s not. It’s Ambrose? I love the way he negotiates from top to bottom with intervallic leaps on his trumpet, and all his chromatic runs are fantastic. He has a lot of flexibility. He has his own sound and a completely different style. 5 stars.

Don Cherry
“Elephantasy” (Complete Communion, Blue Note, 2000, rec’d 1965) Cherry, cornet; Leandro “Gato” Barbieri, tenor saxophone; Henry Grimes, bass; Ed Blackwell, drums.
That was Don Cherry and Gato Barbieri from Complete Communion, and they had great interplay. I was a big fan of Ornette and Don. I bought this album when it came out. This was probably Gato’s best recording before he went into a more commercial vein. Is Ed Blackwell on this? Charlie Haden? Don had his own original thing going on when he played. He had his own technique, and you can’t duplicate it … even though I tried. There’s a joy to it, and everything the two played was uplifting. Some people call it avant-garde, but I call it soul music. Of course, 5 stars.

Charles Tolliver
“Copasetic” (Connect, Gearbox, 2020) Tolliver, trumpet; Jesse Davis, alto saxophone; Keith Brown, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Lennie White, drums.
I liked the alto solo, but I don’t know who the trumpeter is. Is this his date? It’s well played and, once again, it’s not an easy piece to negotiate, and the trumpeter at the end doesn’t have the chops as if he’s lost pace. It’s not particularly memorable, but it’s well done. 3½ stars. It’s Charles Tolliver? That throws me for a loop. I would have never guessed that. I enjoyed the tune, and Charles deserves a hearing. I actually owe Charles a big thank-you. Back in the day, he was playing with Horace Silver and Max Roach at the same time. Since he was so busy with Max, Horace called me in to audition, and I eventually went into his band.

Ingrid Jensen
“At Sea” (At Sea, ArtistShare, 2005) Jensen, trumpet; Geoffrey Keezer, piano, keyboards; Matt Clohesy, bass; Jon Wikan, drums, percussion.
At first I was thinking of Enrico Rava, then realized it wasn’t him. The trumpeter had a good range and got around the horn really well. That set a nice, floaty mood. There wasn’t really a head but more like a phrase that the band interacted around. It feels like an opening mood for a record. Is this album relatively new? Then this must be Ingrid Jensen. She plays in so many different styles, but always sounds like herself. 4 stars.

Tom Harrell
“Blue ’N’ Boogie” (Number Five, High Note, 2012) Harrell, trumpet; Jonathan Blake, drums.
They kept the form of this Dizzy Gillespie tune the whole way. It reminds me of the stuff that Jimmy Owens would play. The drummer was right in the pocket, and the trumpeter was playing with sympathetic vibration. He had terrific harmonic ideas. It was fascinating. It was Tom Harrell? He sounds in great shape here. He’s in the moment. 4½ stars. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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