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Randy Brecker & Mats Holmquist: Together (MAMA)

Review of the American trumpeter’s collaboration with the Swedish composer and Finland’s UMO Jazz Orchestra

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Cover of Randy Brecker & Mats Holmquist album Together
Cover of Randy Brecker & Mats Holmquist album Together

Don’t be misled by the billing. Although Randy Brecker’s trumpet is featured throughout this album with Finland’s UMO Jazz Orchestra, the creative force behind the project is clearly composer Mats Holmquist, whose inventive, coloristic arrangements are what ultimately keep Together together.

Take “All My Things,” which somehow finds a common thread between Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” and Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. But having the band deliver Kern’s cycle-of-fifths progression in pulsing eighth-note chords is only half the gag; what marks this chart as truly ingenious is Holmquist’s notion to layer swing time against the decidedly unswinging minimalist thrum, a balancing act the UMO players pull off with surprising grace.

Those interested in more like that should refer back to Holmquist’s 2017 album Big Band Minimalism (which features Brecker on four tracks). Together has other tricks up its sleeve. Among the highlights are “My Stella,” which twists “Stella by Starlight” into a non-standard blend of woodwind pastels and brassy Kentonian climaxes that give Brecker plenty of room to work the oh-so-familiar changes, and “Crystal Silence,” a straightforward setting of the Chick Corea ballad with brass chorales and saxophone counterpoint that would have made Bill Russo proud.

If there’s a complaint to be had about Holmquist’s compositions, it’s that they offer more in the way of compelling structure than memorable melody. “Humpty Dumpty” may open with some great sectional interplay between the horns and the rhythm, but you’re more likely to remember the chattering rhythms than the notes that go with them, while the Brecker solo that anchors “One Million Circumstances” is largely more hummable than the Coplandesque fanfare that precedes it.

Preview, buy or download Together on Amazon!

Originally Published