Randy Brecker - trumpet; Michael Brecker- tenor sax; Don Grolnick - keyboards; Hiram Bullock - guitar, vocals; Will Lee - bass; Ralph MacDonald - percussion; Chris Parker - drums
Hailing from Philadelphia, the Brecker Brothers (trumpeter and principal composer Randy and his younger sax playing brother Michael) were instrumental in forging a new funk-fusion path in jazz during the mid 1970s. And while they enjoyed overwhelming commercial success through the '70s on the strength of their 1974 self-titled debut, 1976's Back to Back, 1977's Don't Stop the Music and 1978's aptly-titled Heavy Metal Be-Bop, their undeniable virtuosity was admired by fans and fellow musicians alike. For this performance at the 1976 Newport Jazz Festival (opening for Weather Report at New York's prestigious City Center), the Brecker Brothers were accompanied by fellow session stalwarts Don Grolnick on keyboards, Will Lee on bass, Chris Parker on drums, Ralph MacDonald on congas and newest member Hiram Bullock on guitar and vocals. They delivered a tightly crafted, electrifying show full of pyrotechnic licks and infectious rhythms.
They come out brandishing the quintessential Brecker Brothers swagger on Randy's funky opener, "Sponge." Will Lee's Mu-Tron inflected bass lines underscore the proceedings while Randy's innovative electric wah-wah trumpet work lend an experimental vibe. Over an extended funk vamp section, fueled by Parker's pocket backbeats and Grolnick's organ, Randy and Michael exchange bristling solos that dip into the hard bop vocabulary that they cultivated during their 1973 stint with Horace Silver. And it is clear from the first notes from his horn that Michael is indeed a monster improvising who is definitely channeling the spirits of John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt. Randy's ultra-funky "Cactus" probably has more to do with the Ohio Players or P-Funk than Horace Silver. Lee is once again on Mu-Tron inflected, sounding a tad like Bootsy Collins, an early advocate of that wah-wah-sounding effects pedal for bass. Even Michael's tenor sax solo is imbued with wah-wah (a neat trick pioneered some years earlier by sax innovator and funk-fusion pioneer Eddie Harris). Again, the speed, dexterity and sheer passion of his playing is absolutely astonishing. Bullock also turns in a searing solo that has him falsetto-scatting in unison with his guitar.
"Night Flight," the lone Michael Brecker composition here, opens with a lively Latin percussion jam before shifting into overdrive for some urgent funk-fusion performed at a blistering tempo. The challenging unisons lines executed on the head by Michael, Randy and Bullock are typically tight and bursting with a visceral energy. Randy's wah-wah-imbued trumpet solo here is particularly killing while brother Michael follows with another heroic solo that develops gradually to a cathartic crescendo. This remarkably intense solo is yet more evidence of why tenor sax players still stand in awe of Michael Brecker. The satirical, Zappa-influenced rocker "If You Want To Boogie…Forget It" is a star turn for Bullock, who unleashes his Hendrix-influenced chops and also contributes some soulful vocals. Their funky, James Brown-influenced radioplay hit from 1975, "Sneakin' Up Behind You," is delivered here in two parts, showcasing more potent solos along the way from Michael, Randy, Bullock and Don Grolnick on a gospel-tinged organ solo. And they encore with Randy's chopsbusting anthem, "Some Skunk Funk," a tune that the trumpeter continues to close out his sets with to this day.
Older brother Randy Brecker first came to prominence as an original member of the group Blood, Sweat & Tears, appearing on the group's 1968 debut album, Child Is Father to the Man. He got some early bandstand experience in New York in big bands led by Clark Terry, Duke Pearson and Frank Foster as well as with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and in 1969 formed the seminal fusion band Dreams, which included his brother Michael on saxophone and Billy Cobham on drums. During their tenure with the original Brecker Brothers, Randy and Michael also played together in Horace Silver's Quintet, appearing on the hard bop pioneer's 1972 album, In Pursuit of the 27th Man. Throughout the '70s and into the '80s, both brothers were ubiquitous figures on the lucrative New York session scene, playing on hundreds of recordings by pop, rock and jazz artists. They focused on their individual solo careers through the late '80s, each picking up Grammy Awards along the way for Best Jazz Performance, before reuniting for 1992's Return of the Brecker Brothers, and their 1994 followup, Out of the Loop. In 2005, Michael was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a cancer of the blood marrow. He died on January 13, 2007, shortly after completing his final album, Pilgrimage, featuring pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, which earned him a posthumous Grammy Award. In 2012, Randy formed The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion with former members Mike Stern on guitar, Will Lee on bass, George Whitty on keyboards, Dave Weckl on drums and Randy's wife Ada Rovatti, filling the humungous shoes of his late brother, on tenor sax. - Bill Milkowski