CD review

Brecker Brothers – “Live & Unreleased” (Hamburg, 1980)

Brecker Brothers – Live & Unreleased

(Leopard / Delta Music Media. DELTAN77072 Album review by Rob Mallows)

I never saw the Brecker Brothers in their seventies and early eighties jazz-funk pomp. I knew of their music only through the 1992 ‘comeback’ album, Return of the Brecker Brothers. The new album from  – a release of a classic set from July 1980 from a gig at the wonderfully named ‘Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall’ in Hamburg – shows what I missed.

Jazz-Funk is the most looked-down-upon of the many hyphenated offshoots of classic jazz (in the UK particularly, it’s often unfairly derided), but done well – as demonstrably so on this album – it has the capacity to excite and just take your body and mind to an enjoyable, funked-up place. The late tenor saxophone player Michael Brecker and his trumpet-playing brother Randy Brecker here serve up ten tracks of composed, taut, chunky and overblown jazz funk that hits the spot, for the most part.

Sure, it’s a little overblown at times – their nineteen minute version of Funky Sea, Funky Dew is about 10 minutes too long, the exact length of the unaccompanied solo by Michael Brecker which, while technically marvellous with its whole bunch of electronic trickery, palls after a while – there’s just so much of it to deal with!

But overall there’s a wonderfully, grimy New York club feel to this show (even though it’s in Germany) that conjures up tobacco smoke, graffiti on the outside, flared collared shirts, neat whisky and broken windows, which hearkens back to a time when jazz was cool, hip and ever so slightly dangerous.

The cover for this two-disc release adds to that feel, picturing a Brecker Brothers-themed delivery truck drawing up outside some grimy factory somewhere probably in the meat-packing district of Manhattan (before it got all tidied up and Hipster-filled), delivering something either illegal or shady. The band certainly delivered, based on what’s on this album

This incarnation sees the brothers joined by some fine players: guitarist Barry Finnerty who was taking a break from The Crusaders to do the tour; keyboardist the late Mark Gray; bassist Neil Jason, who lays down the ‘phattest’ of slap-heavy grooves, and drummer Richie Morales. But it’s the sibling togetherness of Michael and Randy that made the band what it was: these guys just knew how to create intricate arrangements that blew an audience away. This album is so much of its time, but both players still momentarily step back into the what-has-gone-before, with elements of be-bop and straight-ahead melody.

Straphangin’ – the opener – is a Michael Brecker composition and one of their better-known tunes, and begins with a trumpet-voluntary style overture from Randy before the chocks are pulled away and this biggest of jazz-funk beasts soars into the air. It’s a statement of intent. The Michael Brecker-composed Tee’d Off could easily be the soundtrack for a Cheers spin-off where Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca character lands on her uppers, but still has a lot of charm. Sponge is described by the trumpeter in the intro to the crowd as ‘heavy metal be-bop’, and that description is apt!

The aforesaid Funky Sea, Funky Dew is impressively long – too long – but does demonstrate what a tight band these guys were. I Don’t Know Either is a jazz-funk ballad – and as such, something of a tautology, surely – but pleasant enough. But it’s tracks like CD2 opener Inside Out – with a thumping bass line – that are what this band are all about. Groove, sold off the back of a lorry at wholesale prices, but offering maximum value.

The best track – and indeed, a stand-out, stone cold classic of any jazz sub-genre – is Some Skunk Funk. The first thirty-two bars are some of the most exciting, foot-tappingly urgent, machine-gun fast jazz funk you can ever want to here, and you can imagine the Germans in the crowd going nuts for this, especially the bass solo by Neil Jason, which just has the early eighties running through it like a stick of rock.

The band broke up the next year and, ‘comeback’ album notwithstanding, probably did the right thing as the jazz-funk ‘explosion of the ’seventies and ‘eighties was running its course. But for a decade, it shone brightly, and the Brecker Brothers were its Alpha Centauri, always on the verge of a supernova.

This album won’t be to everyone’s tastes and, truth be told, it sounds a little dated. But hey, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Categories: CD review

3 replies »

  1. An excellently descriptive review of an album which is certainly ‘of its time’. Overlong, overblown… but also breathtakingly accomplished and ‘groove-tastic’ at times. As a 2CD release, rather than the live experience, whether anyone other than hardcore jazz-funk/Breckers fans will make it to the 106th minute is another matter!

    Like

  2. “In the UK particularly, it’s often unfairly derided.” I mean I’m pretty sure the term ‘jazz-funk’ was coined here just like Acid Jazz and Rare Groove, so some of us must like it!

    Like

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