BRECKER PLAYS ROVATTI
RANDY BRECKER - ADA ROVATTI
Husband & Wife Team of
Randy Brecker and Ada Rovatti Join Forces on New CD
by Bill Milkowski
Randy Brecker, Ada Rovatti, David Kiksoki, Alex Claffy, Rodney Holmes
Jim Beard, Café’ Da Silva, Adam Rogers and Stella Brecker.
There’s a saying that ‘the family that plays together, stays together.’ That old adage is put into effect on Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond, which not only features the husband and wife team of Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and fusion pioneer Randy Brecker and saxophonist-composer Ada Rovatti but also includes their 10-year-old daughter Stella in a vocal cameo appearance on one track. Backed by a versatile core group of pianist David Kikoski, bassist Alex Claffy and drummer Rodney Holmes, with guest appearances by keyboardist Jim Beard, guitarist Adam Rogers and Brazilian percussionist Cafe, the married couple forges an easy chemistry together on the 10 tracks here, all composed by Rovatti.
A stellar showcase for Rovatti’s wide-ranging musical tastes, as well as Brecker’s inimitable trumpet prowess, Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond shows her remarkable growth as a composer since her 2003 debut as a leader, Under the Hat. “She’s very serious about it and she’s reached another level in the writing department with this record,” said Brecker of his wife, who also released Airbop in 2006, Green Factor in 2009 and Disguise in 2014. “Aside from the fact that I’m her husband, it’s so nice to hear these tunes. It all fits together well and it’s really enjoyable to listen to. And believe me, they’re not easy at all to play over. Ada had to kind of show me some tricks to get through some of these tunes.”
In the liner notes, Brecker proudly states about his sax-playing wife: “I’ve watched her development as both a player and arranger/composer with fascination. Besides music, she’s the greatest wife and mother in the world, a master Italian chef with 160 cookbooks, a master seamstress and designer, interior decorator, photographer, master crafts person, website designer, record-cover designer, record company owner and head of our household. Just ask any of our daughter Stella’s friends where’d they like to be, other than their own homes, and they’ll say: sitting on our living room floor doing craftwork that Ada designed for them…a true Renaissance woman.”
Regarding the title of their latest collaboration (they also appear together on Brecker’s 2003 album 34th & Lex, 2013’s The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion and 2019’s Rocks with the NDR Big Band-The Hamburg Jazz Orchestra), Brecker explained that it addresses the unconditional love that exists between mother and daughter over time. “They’re as tight as can be,” he said of Ada and Stella. “All three of us are. And it was just nice that they’re both singing in octaves on the title track, which is pretty cool.” Added Rovatti, “It’s a sacred bond among the three of us.”
Brecker and Rovatti met in 1996 when the trumpeter was guesting with a big band in Italy in which she was playing alto saxophone. As he recalled in his liner notes to Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond: “After exchanging numbers (I slyly gave her my card, but she asked for it!) and many letters (pre-email!), we started seeing each other long distance, then she moved to NYC after spending a year in Paris, eventually working with the great French singer Anne Ducros. We started seeing each other more and more, and were married in December 2001.”
While Rovatti has made a strong impression with her bold tenor sax playing in past outings, she admits to feeling somewhat overwhelmed by having to fill the shoes of the late tenor titan Michael Brecker on the frontline, alongside Randy, in The Brecker Brothers Reunion Band. “I’ve been in a funny spot, as you can imagine,” she said. “Being married to Randy and having such an amazing brother in the family as Mike, and me playing the same instrument as Mike, I always felt like the weakest link. Because Randy and Mike…they’re playing is just on a different kind of level.”
Nevertheless, she acquits herself with equal parts conviction and grace on both tenor and soprano saxes on the 10 eclectic tracks that comprise Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond. And her accomplished, fully-realized compositions speak for themselves. “I’m trying to spend as much time as I can every day to put some ideas down on the keyboard,” said Ada. “But there are days when I’m concentrating more on composition and others where I concentrate more on practicing my instrument. It’s a good balance, I think.”
The collection kicks off with the upbeat “Sacred Bond,” which has mother and daughter doubling wordless vocals on the melodic head alongside trumpet and tenor sax, Kikoski’s electric piano comping, Claffy’s funky baselines and Holmes’ insistent backbeat. Rovatti solos first, demonstrating her deeply impactful tone, easy rhythmic assuredness and remarkable facility as she builds to double-timed flurries and a magnificent crescendo. Brecker follows with a typically bright, bristling and eminently melodic trumpet solo — the kind he has been documenting on record for 50 years, beginning with his own debut as a leader, 1969’s Score — before mother and daughter return to sing the melodious refrain together.
Rovatti’s affinity for Brazilian music is represented by two tracks here. First is the undulating samba “Helping Hands,” which features a lovely Brecker flugelhorn solo, a buoyant tenor solo from Rovatti and an outstanding upright bass solo from Claffy. Second is the easy-grooving “Other Side of the Coin,” featuring potent solos from husband and wife along with a melodic electric bass solo from Claffy and some playful cucia accents from Cafe. “Being Italian (she was born in the small town of Pavia in Northern Italy, just 35 km south of Milan), my native language has the same kind of laid back feel, rolling phrases and words that kind come in a wave as Portuguese. And I think there’s also a kind of similarity there between Brazilian music and Italian music. It’s funny because I don’t listen too so much Brazilian jazz but somehow it just kind of grows on me. And, of course, Randy’s way of playing on a Brazilian beat is really awesome. He’s deeply connected to that sensibility.”
Switching gears, Rovatti pays tribute to the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, on the aptly-titled “Reverence” (which is the ultimate form of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”). Guitarist Adam Rogers brings some stinging six-sting work to the proceedings while Jim Beard underscores with churchy organ work as Randy and Ada negotiate the changes of this soulful, gospel-tinged number with Brecker Brothers-like tightness and swagger. Said Ada of her connection on the frontline with her husband, “Your sound and your way of phrasing just kind of blends with the person that you play with the most, and for me it’s Randy. And I think that’s also why when Randy decided to put together The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion that he felt comfortable asking me to do it with him. Clearly, nobody can take Mike’s spot. But he was looking for somebody who had their own voice and also had the same kind of connection with him. And I hope that I bring something special to the band, that kind of deep connection that Randy had with Mike.”
Adds the composer about her heartfelt tribute to Aretha: “I remember when I picked up the saxophone at the end of high school and soon after did a gig with a singer who was trying to sing Aretha’s hit song, ‘Think.’ And then, 20-plus years later, I had the chance to play with Aretha Franklin herself at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Just to be on that stage — one of the most prestigious stages in the United States — with the real Aretha, it was really the highlight of my life. And it made me think back to when I was in a small town in Italy, picking up an instrument and playing with this local singer and fantasizing about maybe one day playing with the real Queen of Soul. So in that moment that I was on stage with Aretha, I was kind of patting myself on the shoulder and saying to myself, “OK, you did it!”
Holmes’ gentle brushwork sets a serene tone for the opening to “Baggage,” an older tune of Rovatti’s that she wrote for a composition competition that she won in Italy a few years ago. Trumpet and tenor wrap around each other in a warm embrace on the melodic head and as the piece picks up steam, Ada digs deep, delivering her most commanding and heightened solo of the set (even dropping in a brief quote from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme along the way). Brecker follows with an adventurous solo of his own and Kikoski channels his inner McCoy Tyner in bringing his own brand of heat to this expansive number.
While Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin is saluted by Ada on this outing, another personage of royalty is saluted on “The Queen of Bibelot.” It is none other than Rovatti herself. Acknowledging the dictionary definition of ‘bibelot’ as ‘a small decorative ornament or trinket,’ she confessed to collecting an inordinate number such baubles. “I’m definitely the Queen of that,” she laughed. “I love to go to a thrift store and find an odd object. In fact, I’m looking at one right now. It’s a wood zebra doing a squat, which I think it’s hilarious. So I have many little teensy objects that to many people don’t mean anything. But to me, I can tell you about each one — how I got it, where I got it, why I got it. And that’s just like the way I am also in music. I treasure things and value stuff that maybe other people overlook, but I find the beauty in it.”
The lone bop flavored number of the set, “The Queen of Bibelot” is driven by Holmes’ unrelenting swing factor and features killer solos from Kikoski, Rovatti and Brecker.
The cleverly-titled “Britches Brew” hints at Miles Davis’ electronic phase in the wake of his 1970 landmark recording, Bitches Brew. The two-keyboard attack of Beard and Kikoski on this quintessentially ‘70s number recalls the spiky interaction between Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea in Miles’ touring Bitches Brew band. Kikoski and Beard turn in show-stopping solos here while Randy and Ada follow with some rapid-fire exchanges on the electric modal vamp before Rogers enters with one of his signature flowing legato guitar solos. Holmes and Cafe add a percussive exclamation point on the solo section before the whole band takes it out in a kind of tight-fitting group counterpoint.
Rovatti switches to soprano sax on “Brainwashed,” an upbeat number that carries some heavy connotations. “That tune is regarding the political situation in this country today,” said the composer. “In my youth I was never interested too much in politics but now being a U.S. citizen and a mother and seeing what this president is doing, I have become very conscious of the current political situation. You cannot not be shocked, outraged and affected by what’s going on. It really was a wake-up call for me to be more active and not just observe what’s going on but try to stand up against it.” Listen closely and you may hear the seeds of Harold Arlen’s “If I Only Had a Brain” (from The Wizard of Oz) woven into the fabric of Rovatti’s buoyant melody here.
“Mirror,” Ada’s reflection on aging, is imbued with some of the most scintillating exchanges between husband and wife on the record. Rovatti doubles the engaging melodic line with wordless vocals and Holmes offers a smoking drum solo midway through. Says the composer of the inspiration behind the tune’s title, “It’s about looking at yourself in the mirror and just seeing the start of the aging process and thinking about the wisdom that you’ve gained. So it was kind of an introspective thing of ‘OK, here I am — not that young anymore, not that old yet, but kind of getting there.” As for her vocal contributions here, she says, “I consider myself a shower singer…not even a shower singer. But I think it brings a nice texture to the tune.”
The haunting minor key closer, “Quietly Me,” is an entrancing 6/8 number that features trumpet and tenor sax blending beautifully at the outset and engaging in a kind of shadow play by the tune’s end. “Randy has the melody and I kind of play it back to him,” says Ada, explaining their telepathic hookup here. “We kind of answer to each other with a delayed kind of phrasing, one following the other in a kind of counterpoint, talking to each other.”
That same kind of indelible chemistry can be heard throughout Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond, a stunning showcase for both husband and wife.