Album reviews

Michael Brecker Band & Randy Brecker Band – ‘Live at Fabrik Hamburg 1987’

Michael Brecker, Mike Stern, Joey Calderazzo, Adam Nussbaum & Jeff Andrews / Randy Brecker, Bob Berg, David Kikoski, Joey Baron & Dieter Ilg – Live at Fabrik Hamburg 1987

(Jazzline D78112 – CD review by Charles Rees)

A very cursory look at the cover and title of this CD might lead one to the conclusion that it is of the actual Brecker Brothers band, or perhaps another band co-lead by Randy and Michael. Wrong. It actually features the two brothers’ own, separate touring bands of the late ’80s, performing separate sets in Fabrik, Hamburg, on the same evening, 18th October 1987, both sets recorded by broadcaster NDR. CD 1 features Michael Brecker‘s band; CD 2 features Randy Brecker‘s band (both recordings are available as separate albums for streaming).

As 1987 was the year Michael Brecker released his eponymous debut recording, the set for his Fabrik performance is entirely comprised of tunes from that record. For his follow-up tour, of which this concert is a part, Brecker had recruited a line-up of mostly younger contemporaries: Mike Stern on guitar, also the composer of two tunes in the set, Adam Nussbaum on drums, and Jeff Andrews on bass. On keyboards is a very young Joey Calderazzo, whose unlikely hiring for this tour is documented in Bill Milkowski’s biography of Brecker; he was just 22 at the time!

The performance itself leans very heavily towards the rock and funk elements of fusion, much more so than the recording where these tunes were debuted. Brecker only plays sax for about half of the performance, playing the rest on EWI (electric wind instrument). Mike Stern is featured about the same amount as Brecker, and, maybe unsurprisingly, leans heavily into his rock influence. The content of the solos however, though expertly executed, often drifts into cliches seemingly intended gain a reaction from the audience.

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At the end of the day, this was a live performance in the ’80s, and from what can be heard of the audience, it sounds as though the band achieved the reaction they intended. Though not on the same level as Brecker’s debut recording, which would be almost impossible for any performance, the performance is as excellent as one would expect from a band of this calibre. A bad performance from Michael Brecker, should one ever surface, would be more notable than the near god-like standard to which he was known for, on full display here.

Randy Brecker was also fresh off the release of an album in 1987… Though not his debut recording, his set here is mostly comprised of tracks from his album In the Idiom. On piano for that recording was David Kikoski, who is also featured on this performance. The rest of the lineup – Joe Henderson, Ron Carter and Al Foster – are replaced by Bob Berg, Dieter Ilg and Joey Baron respectively.

As is suggested by the title of his album, Randy Brecker’s music in this set is more grounded in the jazz idiom of the time, especially when compared with the Michael Brecker set. Stylistically, it is not far removed from what Horace Silver or Hal Galper, both of whom the Brecker brothers had toured with, would have been playing at the time. His typically advanced, catchy and occasionally humorous compositions make up half of the set, with the other half featuring “On Green Dolphin Street”, Bob Berg’s “Snakes”, and – to add further confusion about who is in which band – a Mike Stern composition called “Search”.

Saxophonist Bob Berg is particularly outstanding on “Snakes”, and is overall featured quite heavily throughout. David Kikoski also plays his fair share of solos, and does so with his typical flair of excellence. By contrast, though Randy Brecker’s playing is by no means disappointing, it feels as though on this recording it is not consistently to the standard he has been known to achieve.

This CD is one of the more enjoyable recordings to have been released in the Live at Fabrik series. Whereas sound quality has been a minor issue on a few of their previous releases, it certainly is not here. The performances are strong, the music is enjoyable, the listener well served. This is a must have for any fan of (either of) the Breckers.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Gil Evans Orchestra Live at Fabrik 1986

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