Monday, September 24, 2012

Heavy Hitters

Brecker Brothers Band Reunion
The Festival begins in earnest this week, and there is a truly remarkable array of instrumental firepower lined up for these shows. I’m not even talking about the truly legendary Sonny Rollins, who occupies a rarefied and undisputable position on the very short list of all-time greats. No, I’m actually referring to the Brecker Brothers Band Reunion on Friday and Miles Smiles on Saturday, groups that both revisit the funk-infused jazz of the 70s and 80s with a contemporary approach, each featuring a laundry list of musicians who have helped shape the world of electric jazz over the last 30+ years. As is my personal predilection, I have to focus mainly on the sensational drummers in both of these bands.

Of course, with the Brecker Brothers there is Randy Brecker, a trumpeter who has literally been part of the cultural soundtrack since the early 70s as a jazz musician, composer, bandleader and session musician. Bruce Springsteen and Lou Reed to Charles Mingus and Horace Silver to Parliament/Funkadelic and Blood, Sweat & Tears, Brecker was part of it. Mike Stern has attained a cult-like status as one of the greatest names in jazz guitar, whose playing with Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius and Michael Brecker established his stellar reputation. Then, there’s Dave Weckl. Judging by the number of musicians who count Weckl as an inspiration, I don’t think his influence on the contemporary approach to the drum set can be overstated. Since his emergence with pianist Michel Camilo and his star-making turn as part of Chick Corea’s mid-80s Elektric Band, very few jazz drummers have had such a wide-ranging impact as Weckl, who combines astounding technique and precision with rock-solid stylistic mastery. In the 80s and 90s, prestigious music schools like Berklee and the University of North Texas turned out legions of Weckl acolytes, and his influence has crossed genre borders to inspire musicians in rock, R&B, gospel, Latin jazz and beyond. Here’s a video of Weckl soloing with his band in 2002:

The following night at the Herbst is Miles Smiles, an unprecedented collection of alumni from the funk-fueled Miles Davis bands of the 1980s. There’s Wallace Roney, a modern trumpet master who was mentored by Davis and is the perfect choice to stand in for him on this date. Joey DeFrancesco is simply the world’s foremost Hammond B-3 organist. If you haven’t seen him live, you must. He is astonishing. Robben Ford cut his teeth with Miles, and has forged a tremendous career as a blues-drenched contemporary jazz guitar star. Drummer Omar Hakim is a superb musician, with a career encompassing jazz, funk and rock projects. He followed Peter Erskine into Weather Report at the age of 23 and his jazz credits include stints with Gil Evans and John Scofield. Hakim played on Music from Siesta, Amandla and Tutu with Miles Davis, and as a session mainstay, recorded multi-platinum albums with the likes of David Bowie, Dire Straits and Madonna. In 1985 Hakim joined pop superstar Sting’s first band after the breakup of The Police and appeared in his acclaimed documentary/concert film Bring on the Night. Hakim’s solo in the song “I Burn for You” was a highpoint of the film, and made the San Francisco Chronicle’s list of “great moments in concert films.” I was fortunate to see the ensuing tour at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theatre in my early teens, and it was a formative musical experience for me. Here is the song from the film, which also features fellow Festival performer Branford Marsalis:

-Rusty Aceves

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