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Randy Brecker/Bobby Shew: Trumpet Summit Prague: The Mendoza Arrangements

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High-brass firepower is the theme of Trumpet Summit Prague, and there’s plenty of the good stuff to go around, thanks to the on-point playing and improvising of a trio of trumpeters. Here, American players Randy Brecker and Bobby Shew, and Jan Hasenöhrl, founder of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, join forces with the CSNO and St. Blaise’s Big Band in a 2012 concert at the celebrated Smetana Hall.

But this project is less about a longform cutting contest than it is about high-level sparring and appealing playfulness. Take Thad Jones’ “Three and One,” where the trumpeters open with round-robin volleys followed by unison lines and tangy three-part harmonies. A short time later, Vince Mendoza’s arrangement has Hasenöhrl going baroque for a few bars before Shew takes over for a bracingly agile exchange with drummer Martijn Vink, followed by the big band’s return in full swing, underscored by the orchestra. Brecker steps in for a similarly agile solo before the three recombine to restate the melody.

Shew, a virtuoso player too often taken for granted, is center stage on a lush version of Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars”; his flugelhorn, whether stating the melancholy melody or sailing in flights of improvisation, is a thing of beauty, expertly cushioned by the large ensemble. Brecker is featured on two of his originals: the album-opening “Village Dawn,” with its hopscotching melody and a bracing solo spiced with smears, high-speed runs and high-register forays; and the bluesy, harder-grooving “Creature of Many Faces,” which offers solo space for several other players. The program, recorded for Czech television, also offers Mendoza’s own “Rhumba Alias” and a wild and wooly version of Ellington’s “Caravan,” with even more space for three-part trumpet harmonies and round-robin soloing. Three’s a crowd? Not this time.

Originally Published