ONWARD / LEFKOWITZ-BROWN: Onward. Franklin Street.* Deviation. Blues for Randy.* Impetuous. WONDER: Isn’t She Lovely? COLTRANE: Giant Steps. CARMICHAEL: The Nearness of You. PORTER: All of You / Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, t-sax; Steven Feifke, pn; Raviv Markovitz, bs; Jimmy MacBride, dm; *Randy Brecker, tpt / Scholz Productions (no number)
This is the second CD release by tenor saxist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and his quartet, with two of the tracks featuring guest artist Randy Brecker on trumpet. Lefkowitz-Brown attended the Brubeck Institute where he was able to play regularly with the school’s namesake, the late Dave Brubeck. He has also played with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, drummer Matt Wilson and David Sanchez.
The opening tune, Onward, comes at you like a jazz freight train. Lefkowitz-Brown is very obviously a fan of hard-bop tenor saxists; his tone is bright, lean and mean. His improvising style is also in a similar vein; there’s a bit of Harold Land, some Sonny Rollins and a touch of Coltrane in his playing. He enjoys running changes in a scalar fashion, occasionally tossing in some of Trane’s “sheets of sound” to break things up. Pianist Steven Feifke is also a strong player who attacks the keyboard aggressively yet with unbounded ecstasy. Bassist Markovitz is a steady force underpinning the goings-on, while drummer MacBride plays with the rhythm as the others keep to a steady forward beat.
The quartet also takes charge in their rendition of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t she Lovely?, despite its overlaying of 3/4 in places. The simple tune is worked over in splendid fashion, here featuring Feifke in a more relaxed, almost pensive mood. When Lefkowitz-Brown returns, he ups the emotional level once again, but relaxes towards the end, allowing Feifke to play a repeated walking lick in the bass range of the piano which then leads to a final flourish from the saxist.
Lefkowitz-Brown’s original Franklin Street is a relaxed piece, one of two tracks featuring the great Randy Brecker on trumpet. And, wonder of wonders, Brecker is not just “tacked on” as a soloist but worked into the arrangement of the opening theme, playing in thirds with the saxist. Moreover, he is given the honor of being first up to solo, and his playing is as beautiful and well-organized as ever. An interesting moment occurs when Lefkowitz-Brown first enters: the bassist follows him underneath note for note and rhythm for rhythm. As expected, the saxist again ramps up the emotional feel of the piece, only to have it fall back to relaxation again when Feifke enters. Coltrane’s Giant Steps is almost a predictable success for Lefkowitz-Brown, but the surprise is that his version “jumps” more than the original. At one point, early on, Feifke cleverly plays walking single-note triplets to the saxist’s top line (a trick he repeats near the end). The pianist is unusually loose and febrile in his solo here, playing tight, well-ordered lines, and MacBride has a fine drum solo.
I’m always interested to hear modern jazz bands of any size approach old standards, just to see what they do with them. In the first instance here, Hoagy Carmichael’s lovely The Nearness of You, Lefkowitz-Brown completely respects both the melody and the mood, taking it at a romantic tempo very close to Glenn Miller’s famous recording of it. Here, too, his tenor takes on a bit more warmth, not quite on the same level as Hawk or Ben Webster but mellifluous and soft-grained nonetheless. The former mood resumes with Deviation, which sounds so much like a hard bop tune from the 1950s that I was a bit surprised to learn it was another original.
The other tune with Randy Brecker, appropriately titled Blues for Randy, is a funky-groove sort of piece, not too dissimilar to the kind of fusion the trumpeter played back in the 1970s with his late brother Michael. Both horn soloists seem to love this groove, jumping into it feet first and taking to it like ducks to water. Brecker, especially, almost sounds like a cooped-up boxer finally being allowed to spar in the ring, flying all over the place as he did 40 years ago. Bravo, Randy!
The final original piece here, Impetuous, is surprisingly relaxed and lyrical, almost in a bossa-nova beat and in fact feeling very much like one of the Jobim tunes that Stan Getz recorded in the early ‘60s. Lefkowitz-Brown, of course, has his own approach to this sort of piece and doesn’t even remotely try to resemble Getz. His playing is more angular in form and certainly more aggressive in tone. Feifke’s piano solo meanders a bit but pulls itself together in the second chorus for some outstanding improvisation. Lefkowitz-Brown tosses in a few tenor honks in the last chorus.
Unlike their treatment of The Nearness of You, the quartet takes on Cole Porter’s All of You in straightahead jazz style, full steam ahead, and makes the music really jump. The leader is especially good here, pushing and pulling back on the beat as he wends his way through the changes, and Feifke sounds very playful in his solo turn, eschewing complexity for relaxed, simple fun. It’s a good rideout to a generally splendid album.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley
Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz