Dean Brown – Here, Bill Evans – Soul Insider, Randy Brecker – Hangin’ In The City

Dean Brown – Here
Bill Evans – Soul Insider
Randy Brecker – Hangin’ In The City

(ESC – 2001)
by Sidney Bechet-Mandela

Whoever said jazz fusion was dead, obviously has no knowledge of Joachim Becker, the man behind ESC Records and the Executive Producer of these three releases. Each one is star studded with guest stars from the golden age of 70’s fusion music. Trumpeter Randy Brecker himself qualifies as one of those heroes, while Brown and Evans are more associated more as back-ups from the 80’s groups of Billy Cobham and Miles Davis respectively.

Brown’s cd is clearly the winner here, if judged on quality tracks, and number of influential guest soloists, with names like David Sanborn, George Duke, Christian McBride, Marcus Miller, and many others. But Brown is hardly intimidated by their star power, always remembering whose album this is with his soaring and piercing guitar, that cuts through this clan production like a hot knife through butter. Minus the three short interludes, from beginning to end, this is the essence of what contemporary jazz in the 21st century should sound like.

If there was a Comeback Player of the Year award in jazz, “Soul Insider,” would be a prime candidate, although the prize wouldn’t go to sax man Evans, but to singer Les McCann. On two tracks that he co-wrote with Evans, McCann sounds as good as he has in 30 years, since, at least his 1973 album, “Talk To The People.” On “Lose My Number,” a funny story about an over zealous groupie, McCann displays all the warmth, wit and style that mad “Compared To What,” such a big success in 1969. Evans shouldn’t be discounted because he easily delivers the best album of his career. Only on the first two tracks does Evan flaunt any influences, where he successively pays homage to Grover Washington Jr. and Eddie Harris, before moving on to his own voice that he has cultivated in the progressive contemporary jazz world. Guitarists John Scofield and Dean Brown make blistering guest shots on the album, but the MVP of the session has to be the funky organ work of the highly underrated Ricky Peterson. This record doesn’t have the same relentless energy of Brown’s record, but it is more in tune with the current curve of rhythms and grooves being heard in contemporary jazz.

Randy Brecker’s album on the other hand has a lot of energy, it just seems misplaced. Just like wimpy smooth jazz musicians give contemporary jazz music a bad name with traditionalists, veteran fusion players who make bad hip-hop records don’t do us any good either. This actually could have been a great hip-hop jazz record had Brecker, along with his rapping alter ego, Randroid, been reigned in much, much tighter. Brecker is so over the top on this release, he must still be dizzy. Some of the music is funky, and it is always inspiring to hear Richard Bona play his Jaco Pastorius style of bass playing. But even on a Bona feature, Brecker comes in on a spoken word passage that sounds like some cross between Rod McKuen and Vanilla Ice.. As wonderful as Bill Evans and Dean Brown’s records are is how bad Randy Brecker’s is.