If you check an online list of the 100 greatest jazz flautists, which seems to have been last updated in February of 2005, of course you’ll find names like Eric Dolphy, Herbie Mann and Rahsaan Roland Kirk leading the pack. Andrea Brachfeld comes in at number 70. Listen to her latest album, Lady of the Island, due out the ninth of October, and I think you’ll agree that the list could use a revision. Brachfeld plays passionate hard-driving be bop with the best of them, and in softer moments her tone is magic.
The new album offers nine tunes, a nice mix of original compositions, some strays from the jazz songbook, and at least one outlier. She explains in the liner notes that coming seven years after a disabling personal injury prevented her from playing, the album marks her return to the genre she considers her first love. It’s good to have her back.
Brachfeld is joined on the album by a gang of her friends. Bill O’Connell, who co-produced the CD with her, plays piano on seven tracks. Bassist Andy Eulau and drummer Kim Plainfield play on eight of the tracks. Bob Quaranta plays piano on two and a Fender Rhodes on one. The lineup of guest artists includes Todd Bashore (alto sax), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Yasek Manzano (trumpet, flugelhorn), Wallace Rooney (trumpet), and Chembo Corniel (congas, percussion). They are talented musicians who contribute some exciting solo work.
Brachfeld’s liner notes offer some fairly extensive commentary about her own compositions as well as the rationale for her other choices. She opens with her own “Be Bop Hanna,” written she explains when she heard her niece’s three-year-old daughter saying she wanted “be bop.” “Be bop,” it turns out, was the child’s word for candy. The resultant composition is a confection that starts the album with a smile, if not downright laughter, especially listening to Gordon’s trombone. The other Brachfeld originals are “Little Girl’s Song,” written for her daughter, “Four Corners,” a tribute to the life-changing possibilities of Feng Shui, and “In the Center,” a collaborative composition with O’Connell. Manzano’s trumpet solo on “Four Corners” is sweet. “Dead Ahead” is an O’Connell original with a fine trumpet solo from Rooney.
The more familiar songs on the CD include Herbie Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane,” arranged by O’Connell and featuring Rooney and Gordon, and some driving solo work from Brachfeld. The Duke Ellington ballad “I Got It Bad” gets a soulful treatment from O’Connell and Brachfeld. Freddy Hubbard’s “Birdlike” has the kind of Latin vibe that dominated Brachfeld’s earlier career. Bashore does some featured solo work on both songs.
Graham Nash’s “Lady of the Island,” the album’s title song is the surprise, and certainly not the kind of tune you’d expect to find on a jazz album. The sensual beauty of Brachfeld’s treatment—she adds a little vocal element—joined with Manzano on the flugelhorn, shows what can be done with a simple melody in the hands of sensitive artists.
Like I said, if Lady of the Island is any indication of what Andrea Brachfeld can do, as well as what she may be doing in the future, somebody better take another look at that list of 100 greatest flautists and give some serious thought to its revision.