Horace Silver - piano; Mike Brecker - tenor sax; Randy Brecker - trumpet; Will Lee - bass; Alvin Queen - drums
A favorite of George Wein since the inception of the Newport Jazz Festival, pianist-composer and hard bop pioneer Horace Silver turned in a typically heated set with his current band at the time of this July 3rd concert as part of the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival in New York. His potent frontline of the Brecker brothers - 27-year-old trumpeter Randy and 24-year-old tenor saxophonist Mike - added an extra punch to this exhilarating performance held outdoors at Wollman Ampitheater in Central Park.
With electric bassist Will Lee (a member of the Breckers' Dreams band from '71-'72) and drummer Alvin Queen, they kick off the set with Weldon Irvine's "Liberated Brother," a Latin-tinged number with a hooky piano riff that appeared on Silver's 1972 Blue Note album, In Pursuit of the 27th Man. Randy solos first with a stream of notes bristling full of confidence and swagger. He is followed by younger brother Mike, who flashes the fabled chops that would influence a generation of players who followed in his wake. Silver adds a sparse, funky piano solo that is imbued with soul and the sound of surprise (throwing in one quote from George Gershwin's "Summertime" in the midst of his lengthy, playful improvisation). Next up is the driving title track from In Pursuit of the 27th Man. Mike solos first this time, beginning slowly before digging in and erupting with his Coltrane-inspired sheets of sound playing through all ranges of the horn. Randy adds some heat of his own with an aggressive solo on this modernist modal number. Silver's piano solo is typically enigmatic, laying on a dissonant, mesmerizing ostinato with the left hand while soloing emphatically with the right. Queen contributes an extended, dynamic, rapid-fire drum solo before the ensemble returns to the angular head and takes it out in a furious, cathartic fashion that would fit right in with the emerging avant-garde of the day.
"Gregory Is Here" is a thoughtfully melodic number dedicated to Silver's one-year-old son. Silver's penchant for affecting horn harmonies comes to the fore here as Randy and Mike's lines swoop and intertwine with ease. Randy switches to a warmer-sounding flugelhorn for his lyrical solo here and Mike follows with another outstanding tenor solo that has him nonchalantly double-timing the pulse while exploring the full range of his horn with virtuosic leaps into the upper register. They close out their set with a rendition of one of Silver's most requested tunes, "Song For My Father" (the title track from his 1965 Blue Note album), which he dedicates to a new father in the audience, scat singer extraordinaire Babs Gonzalez. Mike's tenor solo here is typically inspired and jaw-dropping, culminating in an intense breakdown with drummer Queen as Lee grooves mightily behind them on electric bass. Mike Brecker completists are definitely going to want to check out this one.
Shortly after this Central Park concert, Mike and Randy Brecker would form The Brecker Brothers band, releasing their self-titled debut in 1975. They would score many commercial triumphs as The Brecker Brothers through the '70s and early '80s on the Arista label while also appearing as ubiquitous studio sessionmen on numerous albums. They disbanded The Brecker Brothers after 1981's Straphangin' to focus on solo careers. Each of the brothers would rise to the heights in their field during the '80s as composers, arrangers and bandleaders before joining forces one again on 1992's Return of the Brecker Brothers and following up with 1994's Out of the Loop. Each of the brothers is a multiple Grammy winner (Michael earning 14 awards for Best Instrumental Solo and Best Album, Randy winning four Grammies for Best Album and Best Contemporary Jazz Performance), and they have also appeared as special guest soloists on countless albums over the years. In 2005, Mike Brecker was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a cancer of the blood marrow. He valiantly got out of a sick bed in August 2005 to record his final album, Pilgrimage, with Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette and John Patitucci. He passed away on January 13, 2007, four months before the official release of Pilgrimage, which earned him two posthumous Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Group.
As of this writing, Horace Silver was in poor health but still hanging on at age 81. Born on September 2, 1928 in Norwalk, Connecticut, Silver's earliest musical influences came from the Cape Verdean folk music that his Portuguese-born father played around the house. (In 1965, Silver paid tribute to his roots on the classic Blue Note album, Cape Verdean Blues). He began playing tenor saxophone in high school before switching to piano, inspired by the likes of Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum and Bud Powell. He was discovered in 1950 by Stan Getz playing in a jazz club in Connecticut and Getz subsequently used Silver's working trio as a backing band for his own concert in Hartford. In 1951, Silver moved to New York and began working with such established jazz artists as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Oscar Pettiford. In 1952, he played his first Blue Note session, a date led by alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. The following year he joined forces with Art Blakey to co-lead The Jazz Messengers. They recorded a few albums together for Blue Note and in 1956 Silver left the band to record on his own. The string of albums that he released on Blue Note through the '50s and into the early '60s (including 1959's Finger Poppin', 1964's Song For My Father, 1966's The Jody Grind and 1968's Serenade to a Soul Sister) established him as a major force in the genre that came to be known as hard bop.
Silver's '70s bands included such future stars as drummer Billy Cobham, tenor saxophonists Mike Brecker and Bob Berg, and trumpeters Randy Brecker and Tom Harrell. All of his recorded output through the '80s was released on his own Silveto label, and he returned to major label status in 1993 with 1993's It's Got to be Funky. His last recording as a leader (for the GRP label) was Jazz Has a Sense of Humor, a credo that Silver carried throughout his illustrious career.
-Written by Bill Milkowski