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Randy Brecker & Eric Marienthal: Aces

Jim Worsley By

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Randy's work on the trumpet and flugelhorn is pretty astounding on this record. So, for me, quite frankly I was able to follow that phrasing and finish. Just play like Randy Brecker, how hard can it be? [with a laugh] —Eric Marienthal
Randy Brecker certainly needs no introduction. Neither does Eric Marienthal. But the fact that they have joined forces on a new record is something to talk about. That's exactly what we did, and then some. We went deep into the record, when we weren't busy having a laugh or two. Then there were memories of Michael Brecker and a glorious time past. My gratitude to them both for this fun and enlightening conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

All About Jazz: Today we smack a double up the alley, with two multiple Grammy winning artists, Randy Brecker and Eric Marienthal. For the first time they have connected on a co-led record entitled Double Dealin' (Shanachie Records, 2020). First off, thank you for taking the time today and secondly although this is your first collaboration, your careers have hovered around each other to a large degree. Maybe you could tell us about some of the other ensembles in which you have played together over the years.

Randy Brecker: Well, I think it goes back to the GRP All Star Big Band where we first actually played together. We have played a lot together with Jeff Lorber. We are also regular members of the jazz cruises in which Eric is the musical director. We have also gotten together every year or every other year at the Berks Jazz Festival under different configurations. One of my booking agents, a few years ago, had the idea that we would be a good front line together. I thought it was a good idea and that we should tour together, but then that agent just sort of disappeared from the scene. But here we are, we finally did it.

AAJ: So, you guys go way back at this point.

Eric Marienthal: Yes, back to the early nineties.

RB: Well, we knew each other before we ever played together. We played opposite each other at various festivals. Eric with Chick Corea's band and myself with Brecker Brothers. So, we were very familiar with each other's playing well before we ever played together.

AAJ: Doing a record together then is something you have both wanted to do for some time now. What brought you together at this particular moment?

EM: We played together at a tribute concert for the late great Chuck Loeb. One of the bands that Chuck was responsible for putting together was Metro with Wolfgang Haffner, Will Lee, and Mitch Forman. We played together with that group as the horn section at that concert. After that the idea really came to light to try to do it. Shanachie Records were on board and we enlisted George Whitty to produce the record. George is quite the genius. After that it came together quite easily.

AAJ: What was your overall concept or mindset going into this project?

EM: Well you know it's interesting. Back a few years when you first thought about a record, a jazz record, because of radio and because of marketing and everything else you had to define what it was. Is it a Latin record? Is it smooth jazz? Is it straight ahead jazz? Is it a funk record? Now I think those lines are kind of blurred. It was clear that the record company wanted to do some kind of contemporary record, but we were never told what to do or not to do. We really appreciated that kind of support from the record company.

RB: One of my first recording experiences back in the sixties with was with Danny Weiss, who now heads up Shanachie. It was with Larry Coryell at Apostolic Studios, which became Apostolic Records and then started Vanguard Records. So, Danny and I really go way back. It was kind of fun to reconnect with him. He was very supportive, but at the same time was out of our way. Once he heard a few of the tracks he really got into it. It was fun to work with him some fifty years later.

AAJ: With that freedom you chose to ride a fun and funky groove throughout this record, and you brought in some heavyweights to help get it done. George Whitty's imprint is all over the record. I'm sure you both have a comment or two on his impact on Double Dealin'.

EM: Well, Randy you worked with George as far back as the Brecker Brothers and he did some producing for you too, right?

RB: That's right. Not only the Brecker Brothers band, but he is so very adept and great at what he does. His playing, which is fantastic, gets lost in the fact that he is probably the greatest sequencer I have ever met. He can make music out of just putting sounds together and beats together. He produced two Brecker Brothers albums and also went on to produce my brother's record and my solo record. He is one of a kind. I was very happy when he was brought into the picture.

EM: There is a tune of Randy's on this new record that we covered. It's a very famous tune of Randy's called "You Ga." Which is short for You Ga To Give It. I don't know if covered is even the right word when it was Randy's song in the first place. We reimagined it. Dave Weckl, who plays drums on this record called me and said "You know, that tune, I just heard it and I was just wondering who was playing drums on that or is that George?" Here is one of the preeminent drummers of our time and he is not even sure if it is real drums or not. If you can fool a player like that then you are really doing a good job.

RB: Yeah when I heard everything, I had to recheck the credits.

EM and AAJ: {LOL}

RB: Man, you have to think twice. When George is in the house there is no fear. You know that the programming is going to be just great.

AAJ: Then of course you are supported by a "fairly good" rhythm section. What did Weckl and John Patitucci bring to the mix individually and more broadly to the ensemble?

EM: They certainly enhanced a lot of what George did. Obviously anytime you have the chance to play with these guys, who have been bandmates of mine in the Chick Corea Elektric Band, it's going to be a good thing. They are good friends and amazing musicians. We have grown up together as adults, playing together since our twenties. It's fun for us nostalgically, but they are just an amazing rhythm section. John did a couple of killer solos, one on electric and one on the upright. Dave does a killer solo on Randy's "Sambop."

AAJ: The title track kicks off the record with that kind of classic wah wah trumpet, Randy, and then, Eric, you respond with such a soulful vibe. This is one of a few Marienthal/Whitty compositions on the record. You two clearly click as a songwriting team.

EM: Yeah, we co-wrote five tunes actually on this record. I live out here in Newport Beach (California) and George lives up in Lake Arrowhead, up in the mountains. It's about two hours away. Not terribly far but far enough to figure out. He mentioned coming down here and I said no its okay I can come up there. Anyways, he ended up coming down to Newport and we worked in my studio. Randy will attest to this that just working next to George as a player, as a writer, as an arranger and a producer he just has so much on the ball musically. That in itself is so inspiring. You have an idea and he takes it and then there is some incredible idea I never would have thought of. It was really fun in that sense.

AAJ: That's fantastic to work in that sort of environment. There are some very soulful exchanges inside the tune "3 Deuces." Maybe you could expand a little on what's going on in the moment.

EM: Randy, what are you thinking about when you are playing a solo?

RB: Well, that is a really funky soulful track. I wanted to do something different, having done the wah wah and using the plunger mute on another track. "3 Deuces" is just a fun tune to play under any circumstances but with the Eric Marienthal one-man sax section, with that baritone really kicking in is a key feature to a lot of these tunes. I like the way everything fits together.

EM: Right back at you, Randy. I was following your parts. I imagine just kind of tucking into a nice cozy bed. You play all those trumpet parts and played those amazing inner hard parts, especially the low parts. Your work on the trumpet and the flugelhorn was pretty astounding. So, for me, quite frankly, I was able to just follow your phrasing and finish. Just play like Randy, how hard can it be? [with a laugh]

AAJ: [LOL] It does at times have a big sound, like a bigger horn section.

EM: We overdubbed a lot to create that.

RB: We did, and we double tracked on one tune. George did a subtle double track in certain parts. I first learned about that way back in the sixties playing with Blood, Sweat, and Tears. A lot of people picked up on that. Like Crosby, Stills, and Nash probably triple tracking their voices. It's a great effect. It just sort of thickens the sound. It makes it sound more electric so to speak.

EM: Right, yeah, besides the lead parts, the melody and solo parts, there are two alto, soprano, and tenor parts before they are even doubled. In fact, on your tune "You Ga," Randy, there is that classic badadada, badadada {voicing the riff, it will make more sense when you hear the tune} George put that really down low at the bottom in stereo so it would really be coming at you. It's unusual to double that part but it added some extra grit way down low.

RB: It was a great idea. The tricks of the trade, so to speak.

AAJ: Yeah, I appreciate you sharing those tricks of the trade. It's very interesting how you put all that together. "Fast Lane" is a tune that brings in Weckl and Patitucci and allows them to spread their wings a bit. Eric, the time you spent playing with these cats with Chick Corea, that familiarity, has to be a big factor in writing parts specifically for them, yes?

EM: Truth be told George did the arranging on that tune. Dave Weckl is not only one of the greatest drummers in the world he is also a tremendous sound engineer. He has a beautiful studio of his own and when he records it there, well, let me say it this way—as much as it's great to play it live, when Dave says it would be better for me to do this at home in my studio, you don't want to say no. You want to say yes! Dave took the opportunity to really get into the arrangement of the song. It also put him in a sonic environment that was optimum for him. You can hear every instrument on the drum kit so clearly. There was a lot of attention to detail.

AAJ: Ah, that makes sense now that you say that. The drum parts on "Fast Lane" are highly discernable. Now, were you able to record any of this record together in the studio prior to the pandemic or is it all a Long Island to Southern California track blend?

RB: It's bi-coastal tunes.

AAJ: That could be a good name for a follow up record. Bi-coastal Tunes.

EM: A sequel, yeah.

AAJ: Well, let's hope that doesn't happen which would mean we are free to move about the country again. Double Dealin' has kind of a pandemic free groove to it. That is to say that getting into it is an uplifting escape from those worries. Listening to this can put your head in a more positive place.

RB: That's very true. There's a lot of great music on this but, and I mean this as a compliment, it's very easy to listen to. At the same time, the complexities are there. If you want to give your brain a workout, it's there. It's a hard thing to do, but this record can be enjoyed in either way. You can get lost in it or you can just ride the groove.

EM: Yeah, the record did provide escapism in that sense. I remember very clearly walking to my studio, shutting the door behind me and welcoming the distraction to dive into my headphones and hear this music and just be thinking about that. I agree with Randy that there really is a fun spirit to this record. I hope it doesn't sound self-serving to say that. Sometimes you can put on your own record, a record that you have played on, and you pick it apart. You know, you kind of think that I should have changed this or done that differently or whatever like that. But with this one, I don't know, it doesn't feel that way. Part of it is having the opportunity to play with Randy. But the record just has this nice fun feel to it. There's plenty of meat on the bone, as Randy alluded to, but you can just put it on and dig it.

AAJ: One noteworthy, yet very special, exception to the funk and the grooves is your tribute to Chuck Loeb. It's hard to imagine a ballad played with more heart and sentiment than "Mind the Fire." Eric, this must have been an emotional song for you to both compose and play.

EM: Yeah, Chuck was a very close friend of Randy's and mine. George and I wrote this together in sort of a skeleton format. Then as George left, I laid down some melody tracks so that we didn't forget anything for when he got home and I could email it to him. I just turned on the tape and started playing. George got it and thought it was great. I was ready to do them again, but George liked those first impressions. He said, "don't change a note." Then we made room for Randy to play. I'm proud that we were able to come up with this tune and pay homage to our buddy.

AAJ: Yeah, I am too and I'm sure many listeners, and in particular fans of Loeb, will be. The record pops right back up big time with Randy's "Sambop." You play a riff in that tune, Randy, that just pulls you out of your seat, it's fucking nuts, man, and just brilliantly leads into Eric's solo. You can't possibly write that. That has to just be improvisational bliss, yeah?

RB: (with Marienthal laughing in the background) Yeah, that is in the moment for sure. It wasn't a particularly easy note to play over, so it did take a little thought there. I just kind of handed it over to my man, Eric, here. And with Weckl at the helm spurring us on, it was a lot of fun to record that one.

EM: Randy's being very modest actually. Randy does some serious improvisational heavy lifting on that tune. He is playing through all these hard Randy Brecker changes like in F blues so incredibly. When it comes to my solo, I have a far easier task than Randy does. You're right, Jim, Randy's solo on that is just completely classic Randy Brecker. It's not easy, man.

RB: Well, thank you guys both for that.

AAJ: Yeah, my wife and I were listening to "Sambop" for the first time and when that part hit we were both like "Whoa,what was that?"

EM: (laughing) Exactly, you know Randy played his solo on that tune before I did, so I get it. I heard that and was like, "Man, I got to follow that?!" (laughter all around)

RB: Well I had to follow Michael Brecker all those years, so I know the feeling, believe me.

AAJ: The party, which I think is fair to call it, continues with "You Ga (Ta Give It)." It's possibly the most exhilarating funk groove on the record. You guys had to have a blast recording that song. There's just so much fun and cool note selections going on there. It's an invigorating composition. You talk about musicians having conversations, this is more like exchanging witty laughter. Clever dialog I must say, Randy.

RB: I have to really credit George in the way he organized all the parts and the way they shuttled back and forth. That's the high point when things are going in and out. There was stuff on the left, stuff in the middle, he really put it together well. It was actually a hard one to record because there were a lot of parts and a lot of sections and I wasn't sure what was going to fit with what. When I heard the final result I was really thrilled with the way it turned out.

EM: This was actually the last tune we added to the record. The original is a conversation between voices and the horn.

RB: Yeah, that's right.

EM: So to arrange it for Randy and I for a horn section with the melody on top, I first thought it would be a challenge from a mix standpoint to make sure that it didn't just kind of like climb all over each other. I didn't want to be getting in each other's way. Even in the early mix, Randy, I thought it worked but I hoped it didn't sound like a big pile, you know (laughing). It ends up playing very conversational, as you rightly mention, Jim. Actually, I never doubted it for a second with George Whitty genius at the helm.

RB: It's amazing that is what he had in mind all the time. I felt the same way, that there were a lot of horns, a lot of notes all kind of at the same register. I hadn't thought it would turn out in such a call and response manner. It was a great idea on George's part,

AAJ: It's great because even though it had its difficulties and you put a lot of work into it, the listener hears the joy and the fun. One thing I haven't mentioned that I wanted to, is that although there is a steady dose of funk and groove, there are no two songs that even sound close to each other on this album. Ron Carter once said to me, and I paraphrase, on one particular record he wanted each song to have nothing to do with the other, as opposed to sometimes a record having a theme. Was that concept part of your master plan to groove the world?

EM: You know I'm not sure that we set out to do either. There is the thought of having a certain style or sound. Then there is, as you are saying that Ron Carter was talking about, that you don't want the songs sounding at all the same. A lot of times that is kind of the magic of making records. Randy can speak to this even better than I. From a compositional standpoint are you writing tunes that are thematically familiar or going in a complete left turn or right turn different direction. I think on this record we just got lucky and everything just fits together.

RB: There is that fine line. There is some kind of thread here. That is one thing I like about it. The tunes are all different, but there is some kind of thread that goes back to George's sequencing and arranging.

AAJ: It's like reading a book. There are different chapters, but they're related, not all over the place.

RB: That's a good analogy. When I was recording a lot, back in the day, I always attempted to not do the same kind of record over and over. I would be writing a lot and then have several different tunes that had some similarity that could be put together. That would lead me to the direction of the record. We didn't have that luxury on this record, but fortunately the stuff we had we all liked before it was even recorded. I had submitted a couple of tunes that George thought weren't quite right for this. That was readily accepted on my part. We all know each other very well and were open to suggestions. The sequencing of these ten tunes really works. It really came out great. I like the way it starts and finishes and everything in between!

AAJ: Got to say I love the plunger riffs on Whitty's "The Hipster," Randy. What makes you decide or how do you know that it's the appropriate song or melody to infuse with the plunger? A very crisp sound. Must have been a new plunger.

RB: It's just a feeling. You hope everybody else thinks it's a good idea too. I thought it would fit on this. I like to play with a plunger. It was kind of sitting by the music stand, so let's give it a try.

EM: Yeah, it's kind of a fun thing to envision a horn player in the middle of a solo tossing the plunger to the ground and playing the rest of the tune open.

RB: Yeah, you throw down and it bounces.

AAJ: That's a good way to take out the drummer, huh?

EM: {LOL}

RB: {laughing] That's a funny story when I bought that plunger. I was in a hardware store and I found a plunger that really fit the bell of my horn. After I bought it, the guy came running after me, and with a look of horror said, "You don't want the stick?"

EM and AAJ: (laughing hard)

AAJ: That's too funny. Especially the way you said it, with the "look of horror." Still on "The Hipster," there is some great counterpoint here with Weckl's creative drumbeats and Whitty's fine run on his keys with your horn section. Would you credit that a lot to Whitty's arrangement skills or just how does that come together?

EM: That's all George. I fell in love with that tune the second he sent me the demo. The melody is killin.' When he plays the fills, it becomes an integral part of the melody. It's one of my favorite tunes on the record. His production and sequencing are just amazing. Then too, on this tune, you finally get to hear him play. My gosh, what a player. Here he is producing the record and I had to twist his arm a little to play. I'm glad he got to stretch on this tune.

AAJ: Randy was already a very well-established jazz and fusion artist when you were first starting out, Eric. Just how cool was it or how much does it mean to you to have been able to do this record together?

EM: I'm sorry, Randy who? {laughing} All kidding aside, it is an absolute honor to have made this record with Randy. His musicianship has inspired so many players. His records are every musician's staples. They memorize his tunes and his solos. Study them inside and out. Absolutely groundbreaking stuff. I got to know Michael very well. Randy and Michael were the Dizzy and Bird of a generation. That's not an overstatement. You can attribute bebop to Charlie Parker and Dizzy. When fusion came along, you can't talk about fusion and not talk about Michael and Randy Brecker. They created the way the music was played, written, and the way records were made. They had a profound and everlasting impression on jazz music.

AAJ: That's well said and so true.

RB: Well thank you for that. I must say that the first time I played with Eric, out in front of the GRP Big Band, it just felt so great. I can't remember what the tune was, but from the first instant it has always been a pleasure to play with Eric. We don't have to talk about how to play, we just fit together really well. It's unusual, it was the same thing with my brother, we didn't have to discuss how to phrase something. It's all very natural. We never have to talk about it.

AAJ: Nice to see that Ada Rovatti contributed her composition "Jetlagged" to the record. For anyone that doesn't know, saxophonist Rovatti is Randy's better half. Love the tune. It takes that little bit of a breath, while not leaving the flow of the record. It would seem that she did a remarkable job of writing great parts for everyone on this tune.

RB: Yes, that she did. We have separate studios, but when I first heard the song, I thought it might be a good fit for the record. It has a 5/4 section and is a little bit funky. George and Eric heartily agreed, so we went from there and I'm very happy that she was able to contribute that tune to our project. It was a challenge to play. Not just the 5/4, but a bit of an offset. I just played 4/4 and rested for a beat.

EM and AAJ: (laughing hysterically)

RB: She throws a lot of those little things into her tunes. They can be difficult harmonically. Although this one wasn't. It was more rhythmically a challenge.

EM: It's a brilliant composition. I love this tune. I can listen to it ten different times and hear ten different things. I love that about this song.

RB: I'm looking forward to being jet lagged. To being back out on the road playing music again.

AAJ: Yeah, I'm looking forward to you guys being jet lagged, as well. That'll mean there is live music to be heard. Actually, it's kind of a bummer that you don't get to tour in support of this record.

RB: We will sooner or later. It'll be in the cards at some point. We did have a tour for November in Europe. But that has been postponed. We'll hit the road with this stuff just as soon as we can.

EM: Well, too, nobody is getting to travel with their records. It won't be too little too late next year when everyone else is in the same boat. We will just hit the reset. In a way we will be promoting a new record for a long time. It will give it a second wind when we are able to take it out on the road.

AAJ: Yeah, it gets to be new twice, in a sense. The record finishes in hot and high style with "Habanero." Yet another Marienthal/Whitty co-write, that's seriously empowered by Weckl's movement around the kit and Patitucci's finger poppin' grooves. But then you two seize the moment big time and leave nothing on the table. It's a leave 'em wanting more conclusion to what is, in one man's opinion, a truly cool jazz record. You have to be feeling pretty good and proud of this record.

EM: Yes, indeed we are very proud of this record. You know, the sequencing is a really big part of what makes a record successful. The record company chose the first two songs and then we were on our own after that. Which is a pretty fair deal. They chose wisely and we didn't have a song that we felt like we needed to bury somewhere on the record so nobody will really here it. There were no tunes like that all. From a listening standpoint, to a spiritual standpoint, and a musical standpoint there was no consideration of one song being better than another or anything like that.

RB: Well put, Eric. I love what we ended up with, I wouldn't want it any other way.

AAJ: Having the record company call some shots is standard fare, right, going back to your early days with Clive Davis?

RB: Yeah, you know Clive actually named the band, The Brecker Brothers. He wasn't going to put the record out unless we used that name. I wasn't too keen on that name to start with. I thought about it for about a week and then we went with it. Obviously, it turned out to be a great call on Clive's part. I didn't always agree with what Clive wanted to do, but he was genius at what he did, no doubt. We were talking earlier about your well-researched interview with Steve Khan, that I enjoyed reading. You had an excellent discography there that was fun to think about. I played on so many of those records. Steve was indeed nonplussed with Clive's ideas with wanting some vocals and that, which I understand. But in this business, it is important to learn to work with people. In the end, Clive knew what he was doing.

EM: What did Michael say when Clive said that about naming the band?

RB: Well, it's hard to explain. At that time, he wasn't even that much personally involved with the band. It was guys like Don Grolnick and Steve Khan that were writing and contributing tunes. He was more practicing on his own. I remember talking to Michael on the phone and telling him I had a song that I wanted both him and David Sanborn to play on. I had met David at band camp when I was fifteen and I always thought that he and Michael would make up this great horn section. Michael didn't pooh-pooh the idea, but he thought it was all just a fantasy at that time. Michael was just happy to be there. Eventually he started writing and got more personally involved. By the time we regrouped in the early nineties for the Return of The Brecker Brothers, he was writing at a level I could never have imagined. He was such an integral part of the band. It's hard to believe that at the beginning he was more like a sideman. Sanborn, too. There was not the idea that they would become leaders eventually. They were just happy to play. They weren't career minded at that point. They certainly changed throughout the years and grew fast. Interesting story in a way.

EM: Very. Wow!

AAJ: Wow, is right. That's a wonderful bonus to take that trip down memory lane and hear you reminisce about your brother and that time in your life.

RB: Well, it was a great time. A lot of fun. A lot of great memories.

AAJ: Thanks for sharing those memories. We have new memories in the making with Double Dealin' I'm sure people will want to check it out. When does the record release?

EM: Nine eleven.

AAJ: Nine eleven. Very soon. That's great. Also, really great talking to you today. Thank you both again for taking the time.

RB: Thank you very much for having us. Great to talk with you. Always great to talk to Eric. Hope to see you guys in the flesh real soon.

AAJ: Much success with Double Dealin'.

EM: Thank you very much. Really great talking with you.

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