If you were one of the fans of the Brecker Brothers in their original 70s incarnation, I’d understand that you might be disappointed in The Return of the Brecker Brothers, which incorporated a great deal of saxophonist Michael Brecker’s then current interest in African music (he’d caught the bug from playing on Paul Simon’s Graceland tour). Trumpeter Randy Brecker was also infatuated with Brazilian music at the time, so many of the tunes had a samba lilt. But Return of the Brecker Brothers did have some great R&B oriented tunes like King of the Lobby. The followup, Out of the Loop, was pretty limpwristed. It even (gasp!) won a Grammy award for best jazz instrumental performance for African Skies. Talk about the kiss of death.
34th and Lex (released on the Tone Center label) plays like the REAL return of the Brecker Brothers. It traffics in current R&B, filtered through jazz, just like the 70s era Brecker Brothers did, but with those special Randy Brecker harmonies and horn charts. Randy even has brother Michael on hand to help out on every track but one.
The rest of the musicians are the modern equivalent of the ace studio cats the Breckers used back in the day. Adam Rogers (guitar), Ronnie Cuber (baritone sax), Fred Wesley (trombone), Chris Minh Doky (bass), and George Whitty (keyboards) all contribute tasty and smoothly professional performances.
The studio production is even reminiscent of the old Brecker Brothers style. There is nothing raw or spontaneous about it. It’s as slick as any Rhiannon CD, but that’s okay.
Even the one vocal track, All 4 Love, isn’t an embarrassment, thanks to the smooth R&B vocal stylings of J. Phoenix. Randy Brecker’s pop song writing has improved, too (especially when you recall ghastly compositions like Oh, My Stars, and Randy’s even more wretched singing).
But the main attraction of 34th & Lex is Randy’s kickass charts, his R&B meets Monk compositions, and maybe most of all, his laser sharp improvisation skills. I would stack up Randy Brecker’s ability to develop a solo statement, his understanding of modern jazz harmony, and his sheer melodicism, against any trumpeter alive. All of this makes 34th & Lex one of Randy Brecker’s very best R&B fusion oriented releases.