JAZZBO NOTES RECOMMENDED RECORDING
During the Brecker Brothers’ first incarnation, the band was all about merging jazz with funk and R&B. With The Return Of The Brecker Brothers, the brothers widened their net to include African pop forms and Brazilian music. If you want to hear what the Brecker Brothers might have sounded like if they had stuck to R&B and funk, check out Randy Brecker’s release 34th & Lex, which is fantastic, by the way.
To understand how this happened, it helps to know what was going on in Michael and Randy Brecker’s lives at the time. Michael Brecker had been touring with Paul Simon on his Graceland tour, and had caught the African music bug. Randy was in love with Eliane Elias, the lovely and talented Brazilian pianist. To be fair, Randy had a long standing interest in Brazilian music, but after he and Eliane starting going at it hot and heavy, his output of Brazilian-influenced music increased prodigiously. Guys are like that when they fall in love with someone — they become interested in everything about that person, including their music. Can you blame him?
So, are these new elements engaging? Only so-so.
Song For Barry, which is clearly African influenced, especially in the bassline, is composed and arranged by Michael Brecker with his customary intelligence and rigor, but I dunno. It’s too poppy for me — not enough edge. Wakaria (What’s Up?) is also along those lines.
Michael extends this playful feel with Spherical, which while not African influenced, is a little jokey, almost like one of Randy’s tunes.
Sozihno (Alone) is a pretty Randy Brecker ballad, with his customary delayed resolutions and special harmonies.
Randy Brecker’s Above & Below is reminiscent of some of the tunes from the George Duke produced Detente, the Brecker Brothers’ previous date. It’s kind of funky, but with a lot of harmonic movement. The bridge, on the other hand, is a straight up samba.
Again, Randy’s Roppongi sounds look it could have come off of the Detente sessions. This one has elements of seriously warped bossa nova imbedded in it. It’s pretty cool.
I like King Of The Lobby even better, Michael Brecker’s take on contemporary hip-hop rhythms of the time. To me, this is what a then-modern version of the Brecker Brothers should sound like.
On the Backside is another tune drawn from hiphop. It has a lazy, urban feel. I dig it.
On the other hand, Big Idea, an attempt to reference the Breckers’ past hits in a hip-hop context, is a big fat snooze. It dumbs down the Monk meets funk aesthetic of Some Skunk Funk, much like hip-hop often dumbs down James Brown. Here’s one case in which the Breckers were better off not imitating contemporary R&B practices.
That’s All There Is To It is a return to the tradition of including one awful Randy Brecker vocal per Brecker Brothers release. That’s one tradition I could have done without.
Good Gracious is another attempt at musical humor from Randy. It’s interesting, but it feels a little forced to me. It’s a shuffle, but decidedly not a blues. It takes a traditional sounding melody and mutates it in directions it wouldn’t ordinarily want to go. The solos attempt a blues feel over the tortured harmonies.
For their return, the Brecker Brothers lined up an all-star cast. Besides themselves, guitarists Mike Stern and Dean Brown, drummer Dennis Chambers, bassists James Genus and Will Lee, and percussionist Don Alias all make appearances. So, of course the music is impeccably performed.
But for me, The Return Of The Brecker Brothers just isn’t as great as some of those old records from their first incarnation. It lacks urgency and fire, at least in places. Some of the attempts at wit backfire. I don’t really like Michael’s African-themed compositions all that much. And then there’s that dreadful Randy Brecker vocal.