Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, trumpeter Randy Brecker and his younger, sax-playing brother Michael Brecker charted a new course in modern music by blending sophisticated jazz harmonies and searing solos with slamming funk grooves and a visceral energy that grabbed rock ears. On the strength of their 1975 self-titled debut and subsequent string of popular albums—Back To Back (1976), Don’t Stop the Music (1977), Heavy Metal Be-Bop (1978), Détente (1980) and Straphangin’(1981) —the funk-fusion juggernaut known as The Brecker Brothers helped define a sub-genre within jazz and set the tone for ageneration of aspiring musicians who followed.
After a decade apart, the Philly-born brothers reunited for The Return of the Brecker Brothers (1992) and Out of the Loop (1994), both of which displayed a meld of hard bop, funk, world music and state-of-the-art technology. In 2003, the brothers joined forces again for a set of high-powered originals at a concert in Germany with the WDR Big Band. (Officially billed as Randy’s record, Some Skunk Funk was issued on BHM.) Then in 2005, Michael was diagnosed with the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Later that year, he received a partial matching stem cell transplant, but it proved ineffective. He died from complications of leukemia on January 13, 2007.
Fast-forward four-and-one-half years: Randy is in the process of assembling a band for a week-long engagement at New York’s Blue Note jazz club when he realizes that all the musicians he has contacted have played in various editions of The Brecker Brothers Band—bassist Will Lee (who served the earliest incarnation of the group in the mid–‘70s), along with guitarist Mike Stern,
keyboardist George Whitty and drummer Dave Weckl (veterans of the early ‘90s edition). Filling in for his late brother is “the lady in the hot seat,” as Randy refers to her – saxophonist Ada Rovatti, an accomplished improviser and bandleader, also known as Randy’s wife and the mother of their three-year-old daughter, Stella.
For the leader, the notion of a solo showcase morphing into a Brecker Brothers Band gig is a clear case of déjà vu. “When the original band started, the intent was to do a Randy Brecker record,” he explains. “We were rehearsing tunes every week with Mike, Don Grolnick, David Sanborn, Steve Khan, Chris Parker and Will Lee. Somehow, [producer] Steve Backer had gotten wind of the rehearsals. He knew of us —Mike and I had played together in Dreams, Billy Cobham’s band and Horace Silver’s Quintet. He rang me and said, ‘If you call this band The Brecker
Brothers, I’ll sign you tomorrow.’” Randy’s first inclination was to say no, because he recalls, “I wanted to do my own record.” But he considered the opportunity and ultimately, he relented. “And that’s how this whole thing started. Here it is 30-some years later, I’m getting set to do another solo record, and the Brecker Brothers thing creeps in again.”
The live Blue Note date (captured on the DVD of this two-disc set) pulsates with energy and swagger. From the tight tenor-trumpet lines of “First Tune of the Set,” dominated by Stern’s scorched earth solo, to the ominous funk of “The Slag,” defined by Whitty’s callup of Dr. John, Lee’s Mu-Tron bass lines and Rovatti’s wicked wah-wah, it’s clear that this band is on a mission to groove. On “Adina,” the samba-flavored number named for Ada, Randy blows bristling trumpet while his sax mate soars on soprano.
Brecker then resurrects his alter ego Randroid (the street-wise rogue whose signature vice is that he likes to partaay) for ”Really In For It” and “On The Rise.” (Randroid made his vocal debut on the trumpeter’s 2003 album, 34th & Lex.)
Following that, the assertive rendition of “Straphangin’,” featuring a patented chops-of doom solo by Stern, is delivered as a tribute to Mike.
“Stellina,” a buoyant, easy-grooving number written for Randy and Ada’s daughter, essays lyrical flugelhorn by the proud papa. “Merry Go Town” brings keyboardist, vocalist and co-composer Oli Rockberger to the stage (he wrote the tune with Ada and is the only other member of this band not to have toured with the Brecker Brothers Band). The urgent shuffle blues, “Inside Out” (from Heavy Metal Be-Bop), then gives everyone in the group a chance to stretch. For the encore, the group tackles The Brecker Brothers’ chops-busting anthem, “Some Skunk Funk,” served, Randy playfully boasts, “as fast as humanly possible.”
The companion CD contains dynamic studio versions of some of the live tunes, performed by a host of special guests, all of whom are connected to The Brecker Brothers legacy. Guitarist Dean Brown, a member of the ‘90s edition, appears on “First Tune of the Set,” ”Merry Go Town,” “Really In For It” and “Adina.” Guitarist Adam Rogers plays on the beautiful “Stellina” and the funky boogaloo number “The Dipshit,” in which Randy slyly drops a quote from Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” (the tune’s obvious inspiration). Rogers is also the sole accompanist to Randroid (transformed here as a Delta bluesman) on the downhome
“Musician’s Ol’ Lady Dues Blues.” Stern’s delivers toe-curling lines on “The Slag” while Weckl, in signature fashion, unleashes on the intense “On the Rise.” Charter Brecker Brothers Band member David Sanborn contributes his trademark alto sound to”The Dipshit,” “Really In For It” and the ambient groover “R N Bee.” Guitarist Mitch Stein, drummer Rodney Holmes and bassist Chris Minh Doky, all from latter day editions of The Brecker Brothers touring band, also make solid contributions to the George Whitty-produced studio recording.
Perhaps the most moving track on the collection is Randy’s “Elegy for Mike.” As simple, beautiful and affecting as Herbie Hancock’s “Chan’s Song” (a tune that Michael recorded on his 2001 album Nearness of You: The Ballad Book), it is a poignant ode to one of jazz’s all-time greats. “It was nice to have a tune with that feel and with Mike in mind,” Randy says. (Brecker not only dedicates this project to his late brother but to other fallen comrades, including Don Grolnick,, Hiram Bullock, Luther Vandross, Ralph MacDonald and Mark Gray).
There are intersecting vectors and connections throughout this double-disc set. Some go back to 1970, when a 17-year-old bassist named Will Lee came to New York from Miami and joined the Breckers in Dreams; others have their origins in the ‘90s, when young turks like Holmes, Stein and Whitty joined the family. In the annals of jazz history, the Brecker Brothers have written a chapter all their own. The players on these discs, a part of that illustrious history, continue to expand the story.
A dual-disc release, Randy’s newest project Randy Brecker’s “Brecker Brothers Band Reunion” features a live DVD recorded at the Blue Note in NYC bundled with a new 11-song studio recording featuring members of the Brecker Brothers bands from throughout the years including Dave Sanborn, Mike Stern, Will Lee, and Dave Weckl. George Whitty is back in the production and keyboard chair, and Randy’s Italian wife Ada Rovatti is in the ‘hot saxophone’ seat, keeping it in the family on tenor and soprano saxophone. The new dual-disc recording will be released in North America by Magenta/E-One, in Europe by Moosicus Records in November and in Japan by JVC/Victor.
A long time in the making, this project is very close to Randy Brecker’s heart. It is dedicated to his brother, Michael, and other departed Brecker Brothers Band members.
As a composer, performer and in-demand Yamaha clinician, Randy Brecker continues to influence and inspire young musicians around the world.