Rick Braun is the premier contemporary jazz trumpet player of his generation. He’s also a fantastic producer, composer and arranger. Only the great Freddie Hubbard or Greg Adams can be considered to be his equal in my estimation. As such, picking a favorite Braun release is a daunting task. 2009’s All It Takes, is one release from his catalogue that immediately springs to mind. On that one Brawn was assisted by friend and fellow exceptional producer, arranger, composer (as well as brilliant keyboardist) Philippe Saisse. In the CD liner notes, Braun enlightens that Saisse brought him the beautiful song that was to become the title track and cornerstone of All It Takes. That gesture started the collaboration that would conclude with the majority of the tracks on the CD being compositions co-written by this very talented pair. Braun had been a contributor to Saisse’s truly exceptional 2009 release At World’s Edge, and All It Takes contains savory samples of that CD’s magnificent sophisticated flavor.
“Tijuana Dance?” is one of the six songs co-authored by Braun and Saisse, and garnered major commercial success as a single. By its title, as well as its stance, this composition pays homage to Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. Albert unquestionably was a prime influence on Braun and all the other trumpet players who followed in his formidable footsteps. This respectful and highly-melodic churning composition provides a fine energetic choice to lead off the CD, with Braun’s pertly vivacious tones immaculately clear on both trumpet and flugelhorn.
Saisse’s drum programming and lively keyboards combine scrumptiously with Luis Conte’s Latin infused percussion on “Puerto Allegre Jam.” Guest guitarist Marc Antoine is his usual tasty self as he imparts splendid acoustic Spanish guitar to the jam. Background scat vocals by Vanessa Falabella insert further character to the south-of-the-border ambiance. The hub of this salsa treat is undeniably Braun’s vibrant trumpet as he swaps tuneful jabs with Antoine.
The wizardly Jeff Lorber delivers keyboards, programming, and a co-write with Braun on the pretty ballad “Christiane.” The song has an outstanding comfortable-flowing melody and was named in honor of Rick’s loving wife of twelve years. The late Ricky Lawson (ex-Yellowjackets) who passed away in December 2013 provides his always professionally rock-steady work on drums with percussion assistance from Conte and fondly tender guitar offerings from recurrent Braun sideman Dwight Sills. Rick Braun’s companion trumpet and flugelhorn play is lavishly luscious and genuinely heartfelt brilliance.
The title track, as previously stated, is beautiful and highly refined; as are each of the songs on this wonderful collection. Braun’s sensual muted trumpet coupled with Philippe Saisse’s evocative redolent keyboards creates cinematic visions of Parisian avenues after a rain. Their compassionate dialogue is poignant, and guest drummer Simon Phillips precisely adds the ideal modest emotive touch. The atmospheric mood invoked is vaguely shadowy, yet still optimistic. A first class offering, “All It Takes” is an instant epic, and my written superlatives cannot give this song fitting justice.
“She’s The One” was co-written by Braun with keyboardist Tim Gant, who in addition provides drum programming. Braun seizes the opportunity to glide smoothly in step with the lovely captivating melody on his flugelhorn. A repetitive and memorable refrain provides the backbone for “I Got Your Back.” Braun’s muted trumpet is front and center as he leads the group on this infectious number with additional brass aid from Richard Elliot on tenor sax and Nick Lane on trombone. Saisse and Sills are also prominently present, as is bassist Nate Phillips. All play a part to make this tune the alluring winner it is, propelling a great groove.
A brooding but confident European mood mixes with a smidgen of funk on “Ever Changing World.” Braun flawlessly plays the role of continental musical matador; buoyantly substantiating his possession of the required acumen to stay in tune with this ever changing world as he rolls with the musical flow.
The top quality horn section of Braun on trumpet and trombonist Nick Lane are featured on “Sleeveless In Seattle,” a dance-summoning-song with a funky groove and rousing hand-claps. In his CD liner notes Braun states the song was inspired by James Pankow of the peerless horn/rock band Chicago. The bouncy, brass-laden chorus is truly reminiscent of Chicago and the way that group could punch up a beat to make you want to move your feet.
The driving “Berlin” may be the duo of Braun & Saisse’s accolade to Germany’s autobahn; moving equally forceful and dynamic resembling a Mercedes Benz testing its boundaries. It could also be meant as a salute to the country of birth of Braun’s wife. Regardless, it parades a European awareness that is grasped tightly throughout All It Takes.
Rick Braun closes the recording with a steamy slinky tribute to the late Freddie Hubbard entitled “Freddie Was Here.” Freddie Hubbard, a trumpet icon and undeniably one of the greatest ever, remains a personal favorite of mine. His (along with the other) recordings for the CTI label facilitated my appreciation of Jazz. To be sure, those seminal CTI releases helped transport Jazz more into the popular music mainstream. Hubbard had concentrated primarily on playing the flugelhorn later in his career, so it is appropriate that Braun chooses to pay his earnest praises with that instrument.
Braun’s collaborations with Boney James (Shake It Up – 2000) and Ricard Elliot (R&R – 2007), along with this own Sessions, Vol. 1 released in 2004 are also prime candidates for being exclaimed as the keystone recording of his distinguished catalog. All three of those recordings are also must-haves for any fan of contemporary smooth jazz.
All It Takes, although slightly missing a fragment of Braun’s past characteristic funk style, more than compensates with faultless presentations of stylishly enjoyable contemporary jazz that fits together seamlessly in theme. The orchestration and production are elegantly stellar, and have to be applauded. With All It Takes Rick Braun continued his never ending quest to stand out amongst the elite, never apprehensive in crafting the requisite changes to keep his music innovative and relevant.
Record Label: Artistry Music
Tracks: Tijuana Dance?, Puerto Allegre Jam, Christiane, All It Takes, She’s The One, I Got Your Back, Ever Changing World, Sleeveless In Seattle, Berlin, Freddie Was Here
Musicians: Rick Braun (trumpet and flugelhorn), Philippe Saisse (keyboards, drums and programming), Dwight Sills (guitar), Luis Conte (percussion), Marc Antoine (guitar), Vanessa Falabella (vocals), Jeff Lorber (keyboards and programming), Simon Phillips (drums), Tim Gant (keyboards, drums and programming), Richard Elliot (sax), Nick Lane (trombone), Nate Phillips (bass), Bakithi Kumalo (bass)
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com