Iconic Jazz Fusion Outfit The Brecker Brothers Release Long-Lost Concert Audio From Their Incomparable ‘Great Tour of 1980’ on ‘Live and Unreleased’, Out Now on Piloo Records
Randy Brecker and Piloo Records has released a historic 1980 live recording of the consummate trumpeter’s seminal band with his late brother Michael Brecker, The Brecker Brothers. Out on March 20, 2020, Live and Unreleased documents the incomparable amalgam of jazz and hard-hitting rock and funk that became the trademark sound of the Brecker Brothers, and the sound of the generation. The 1980 recording at the legendary Hamburg music club Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall captures the group at perhaps its highest peak. On Live and Unreleased, the two virtuosic horn titans are accompanied by guitarist Barry Finnerty, keyboardist Mark Gray, bassist Neil Jason and drummer Richie Morales.
Randy recalls “Young and ready to create havoc wherever we performed, we usually left our audiences in tatters…Brother Mike was at the top of his game (well, he never wasn’t at the top of his game!) and we were clicking as the Brother Horn Section or ‘Hawn’ Section as they would say in Long Island. So enjoy this ‘long lost’ live concert which brings back to life a lot of pleasant memories of great music, late nights ‘on the hang’, and many a story a little too risqué to repeat here.”
After a European summer tour of large-scale festivals, the intimate Onkel Pö was a familiar, comfortable setting for this powerhouse sextet. A masterclass in interplay, cohesiveness, and dynamic sensibility, one can hear that level of comfort and risk-taking in this exhilarating 2-CD set, recorded just one month after tenor sax titan Michael Brecker had played on Pat Metheny’s uncompromising post-bop studio album 80/81. Guitarist Barry Finnerty had recorded on the band’s 1978 masterpiece Heavy Metal Bebop and was taking a break from the Crusaders and “Street Life” to do this tour. The keyboard chair was held by the late great Mark Gray, a first-call NYC musician who, like the others, was totally immersed in the language of bebop, but also embraced the keyboard and synthesis technology of the day, adorning the ensemble’s core sound with the sounds of groundbreaking technology. Add the slamming rhythm tandem of drummer Morales and bassist Jason and it all made for a very potent, cutting edge brew that helped define the ‘80s fusion sound.
The first CD in this 2-CD set kicks off with an extended version of “Straphangin’,” a Michael Brecker composition that carries a kind of tongue-in-cheek classical overture before segueing to stone cold funk. This track would become the title track of the band’s sixth and final studio album, Straphangin, which was released ten months after this Hamburg concert. Randy takes a masterful solo on this track, beginning with Crybaby wah-wah trumpet exclamations before bursting out with a barrage of bristling, unaffected high-notes. Michael’s solo is well-paced, growing in dynamics and intensity, with the fervor and virtuosity that only the late titan could bring.
The Brothers offer a blistering take on the jazz-rock classic “Sponge”, a Randy Brecker composition from the band’s 1975 debut album The Brecker Brothers. This track engages the whole ensemble, featuring a call-and-response from Randy with brother Michael, as well as trading between Finnerty and Gray. This extended version of “Funky Sea, Funky Dew” features some of Michael’s earliest experimentation with the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), taking an unaccompanied solo that continues for a full nine minutes; a virtual master class in the art of electronic saxophone.
The anthemic “Some Skunk Funk” is delivered at a typical blazing tempo. Randy notes “That tune has become like a right of passage for young musicians. There’s just something about the challenge of it that always made it appealing to musicians. It’s a difficult tune and it just became part of the fusion repertoire, so young players always want to have a shot at it.” The band leaves the crowd stunned after Mike and Jason dig deep, displaying their stunning melodic invention over the complex changes of this trademark tune.
The 2-CD set finishes with the humorous, Zappa-esque vocal number “Don’t Get Funny With My Money”, with lyrics co-written by Luther Vandross, and performed here by Randy. The track closes with fiery exchanges of eights between Mike, Randy and Finnerty; a powerful ending to a hallmark album that stands an important addition to the Brecker Brothers’ recorded legacy.