RANDY BRECKER w/ MICHAEL BRECKER
Jim Beard Will Lee Peter Erskine Marcio Doctor
+ The WDR Big Band Köln conducted by Vince Mendoza
SOME SKUNK FUNK
BHM 1004-2 (Hybrid-SACD) | plays on all SACD-players in 5.1 surround-sound and on all CD-players in Stereo|
Randy Brecker_trumpet, Michael Brecker_tenor sax, Jim Beard_piano & synthesizer, Will Lee_electric bass, Peter Erskine_drums, Marcio Doctor_percussion, WDR Big Band Cologne conducted by Vince Mendoza
Heiner Wiberny_as, Harald Rosenstein_as, Olivier Peters_ts & ss, Rolf Römer_ts, Jens Neufang_bs, Andy Haderer_tp, Rob Bruynen_t, Klaus Osterloh_tp, Rick Kiefer_tp, John Marshall_ tp, Dave Horler_tb, Ludwig Nuss_tb, Bernt Laukamp_tb, Mattis Cederberg_b-tb, Paul Shigihara_g
During the "Jazztage 2003 Leverkusen" Festival, something very special happened. Trumpet player RANDY BRECKER took the stage with his brother MICHAEL BRECKER along with formidable guests: JIM BEARD (keys), WILL LEE (bass), PETER ERSKINE (drums), MARCIO DOCTOR (perc) and the WDR BIG BAND KÖLN, directed by VINCE MENDOZA. This group found ample time to honor the compository oeuvre of Randy Brecker, playing hits from the Brecker Brothers years like "SOME SKUNK FUNK", "SPONGE", as well as compositions from that era by Michael Brecker, such as "STRAP HANGING" and "SONG FOR BARRY", and new compositions by the trumpet virtuoso. For the first time in years, the Brecker Brothers unite on a stage - with a unique and excellent large formation: the WDR Big Band.
It was back in 1974, at the height of the fusion movement, that the dynamic brother act from Philadelphia known as the Brecker Brothers made its self-titled recording debut. Their signature brand of tightly-crafted, swaggering funk-jazz quickly caught on with crossover fans, establishing the brothers -- trumpeter Randy and his young tenor sax playing brother Michael -- as bona fide stars of the era. They would follow the initial success of Brecker Brothers with a string of similarly sophisticated funk-jazz recordings through the remainder of the ‘70s, including Back To Back, Don’t Stop the Music, Heavy Metal Be-Bop, Detente and the Brecker Brothers’ swan song, 1980’s Straphangin’. The brothers subsequently went their own separate ways -- Randy hooking up with Jaco Pastorius and Michael joining the band Steps Ahead. After deciding to concentrate on their respective solo careers, each would go on to make a string of acclaimed jazz recordings as leader of his own band through the 80s, before reuniting in the early ‘90s for a new supercharged edition of the popular Brecker Brothers band.
With Some Skunk Funk, the brothers are back together again, this time performing expanded big band arrangements of familiar Brecker Brothers tunes from the past as well as a few newer originals from Randy’s last two recordings as a leader. This dynamic live outing (recorded in Leverkusen, Germany in November, 2003) captures Randy and Michael in rare concert form with Germany’s WDR Big Band Köln, conducted by Vince Mendoza, who also came up with the stellar new arrangements for Brecker Brothers classics like “Sponge,” “Strap-Hangin’” and the explosive title track.
Says Randy, “I sent Vince a bunch of ideas and he used the ones he felt most comfortable with. I kept in touch with him throughout the process but he could do whatever he wanted with the tunes. Vince, of course, is an expert arranger and orchestrator so I trusted him to do his thing. He basically took the essence of the original pieces and expounded on them in different ways. And I thought they all worked really well.”
The recording features eight Randy compositions spanning the past 30 years, including “Some Skunk Funk,” “Sponge” and “Levitate” from 1974’s Brecker Brothers, “And Then She Wept” from the Brecker Brother’s 1994 recording Out of the Loop, “Wayne Out” from Randy’s 2001 recording Hangin’ in the City and “Shanghigh” and Let It Go”(from Randy’s 2003 outing, 34th & Lex). The elder Brecker brother also contributes a brand new piece in the swinging “Freefall,” which is patterned after Wayne Shorter’s “Free For All,” a staple from his days with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Michael contributes two originals in “Strap-Hangin’” from 1975’s Brecker Brothers and “Song For Barry” from 1992’s Return of the Brecker Brothers.
Inspired by the presence of the WDR big band Köln, which is powered by former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine (who also had significant tenures with the Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton big bands early on in his career) and anchored by bassist Will Lee (a former Dreams bandmate of Randy’s and Michael’s), the brothers rise to the occasion with some of their most exhilarating improvising on record. “It was a lot of work to put the whole thing together,” says Randy, “but I think it was a great night. And the fact that this was the only performance made it especially great.”
Randy adds “I think this recording shows Mike off in a way that a lot of us like to hear him -- in that jazz-funk context where he is really his own man. That’s where he truly is the one and only Michael Brecker. Also Peter just played his ass off through the whole evening and had a great time doing it. And I think I played pretty good myself, considering the pressure we were under.”
With no chance of second takes, overdubs or do-overs, the Breckers Brothers were really ‘working without a net’ on this powerful big band outing. And you can almost feel the excitement level rising a few notches in the Leverkusen concert hall as Michael unleashes titanic tenor solos on the frantic fusion anthem “Some Skunk Funk” (a Randy original that the Breckers also recorded on Billy Cobham’s 1975 album A Funky Thide of Sings) on the soulful “Strap-Hangin’” and the Latin jazz flavored “Song For Barry” (an ode to the Breckers’ former Dreams bandmate, trombonist Barry Rogers, who was also a member of Eddie Palmieri’s La Perfecta salsa band of the early ‘60s). Randy turns in exceptional solos on “Sponge,” his own signature piece from the early Brecker Brothers days, and also on the harmonically adventurous vehicle “Wayne Out” (inspired by Wayne Shorter’s more recent writing) and the grooving Latin flavored soul-jazz number “Shanghigh.” He also offers some poignant flugelhorn playing on his gorgeous ballad “And Then She Wept,” which is given a lush treatment here by Mendoza, and demonstrates some particularly heartfelt playing on the darkly beautiful “Levitate,” a moving elegy that builds to dramatic proportions. Elsewhere, Randy also wails with bebop abandon on the uptempo swinger “Freefall,” blows some bristling electrified trumpet on the funky “Let It Go” and turns in a spirited trumpet solo on the album’s Afro-Cuban show-stopping closer “Song For Barry.”
Aside from capturing the Brecker Brothers in their rare encounter with the WDR Big Band Köln, Some Skunk Funk also resonates with deeper meaning in the face of Michael’s current life-and-death struggle. He has been diagnosed with MDS or myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare illness requiring a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with a similar genetic background. Randy says that Mike was feeling fine at this November, 2003 concert in Leverkusen and that symptoms didn’t begin to appear until September, 2004. His condition continued to deteriorate so that by Spring of 2005 Michael was forced to cancel tours with both Steps Ahead and the acclaimed Saxophone Summit with fellow tenor players Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman. Instead he spent seven weeks at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York undergoing chemotherapy to combat his illness.
The Brecker Brothers grew up playing music together in Philadelphia before elder brother Randy departed for Indiana University. Upon arriving in New York in 1966, Randy’s first gig was with Clark Terry’s big band. Soon after he hooked up with Blood, Sweat & Tears and hit the road. A 19-year-old Michael is heard blowing scorching tenor licks on Randy’s 1968 debut recording as a leader, Score on the Solid State label (recently reissued by Blue Note).
In 1970, the brothers joined with drummer Billy Cobham, trombonist Barry Rogers, guitarist John Abercrombie and the songwriting team of Jeff Kent and Doug Lubahn to form the seminal fusion band Dreams. After two records on the Columbia label, Dreams disbanded and the brothers teamed up on the frontline of Horace Silver’s quintet. A year later they joined Billy Cobham’s powerhouse fusion group and by 1974 they were ready to front their own group. Drawing on a pool of New York session regulars, they formed The Brecker Brothers Band and saw their self-titled debut released on Arista Records in 1975.
“That first Brecker Brothers record, in fact, was originally supposed to be my solo record,” Randy reveals. “Clive Davis (Arista record executive) heard about it through (producer) Steve Backer and thought it would be an easier sell as a brother act. He offered to sign this thing without even hearing it if I called it the Brecker Brothers. And it was a little strange because Sanborn was there from the beginning as the third horn, kind of like an honorary brother. Then we used him on the second record too and during that period he did his own first album, Takin’ Off, which took off big-time. That was the beginning of Dave’s solo career.”
The Brecker Brothers followed with five more highly successful crossover albums before disbanding in 1982. During that seven-year stretch they remained extremely active as first-call session players, appearing on hundreds of pop and jazz recordings by such stars as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Lou Reed, Steely Dan, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, John Lennon & Yoko Ono and Janis Joplin.
After the Brecker Brothers breakup, Randy joined the ranks of Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth big band while Michael joined the progressive fusion group Steps Ahead. Following a Brazilian project with his then-wife Eliane Elias (1985’s Amanda ), Randy returned to his bop roots in 1986 with In The Idiom and continued in that vein the next year with Live at Sweet Basil . He returned to a more commercial funk-fusion direction on 1990’s Toe To Toe , then in 1992 Randy and Michael reunited for the aptly-titled Return of the Brecker Brothers . Their 1994 followup, Out of the Loop, received a Grammy nomination and Randy received a Grammy nomination of his own the following year for his Brazilian-flavored Into The Sun. In 2001, Randy took a walk on the urban side with the decidedly nasty Hanging in the City. He followed in 2003 with 34th & Lex, which reunited him in a potent horn section with brother Michael, alto star Sanborn and baritone sax ace Ronnie Cuber.
Now comes Some Skunk Funk, which places Randy’s prodigious chops and stellar compositions on full display, alongside brother Michael’s inimitable tenor work, in the expanded orchestral context of the WDR Big Band Köln.
Author: Bill Milkowski
Randy Brecker w/ Michael Brecker & WDR Big Band
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