With the tragic passing of Michael Brecker in 2007 at the all-too-young age of 57, it seemed that the flagship group the Brecker Brothers, co-led by the saxophonist with his trumpet-wielding older brother Randy, was also to be a thing of the past. But some things never die; as it was, during the saxophonist's lifetime, the horn-led band that defined the term "downtown funk" and an edgy, urban sound that could only have come from New York City seemed to have an unquenchable life clearly fated to continue, even as the brothers separated at various points to pursue other projects. Emerging in the '70s with a string of six superb albums on Arista Records beginning with 1975's The Brecker Bros. and culminating with the 1981's swan song, Straphangin', the Brecker Brothers reformed in the mid-'90s for the stellar The Return of the Brecker Brothers (GRP, 1992) and equally strong Out of the Loop (GRP, 1994), coming together yet again in 2003 for a collaboration with Germany's WDR Big Band that, documented on Some Skunk Funk (Telarc, 2006), may have been listed under Randy's name but, with Michael in tow, was a Brecker Brothers record in everything but name.
Last year's The Brecker Bros.The Complete Arista Albums Collection (Legacy, 2012) was a precursor and taste-whetter forThe Brecker Brothers Band Reunion, an album that, once again under Randy's name, revives the spirit of downtown funk with a double-disc helping: a studio CD recorded in the fall of 2011 with a larger cast of characters, and a DVD recorded at New York City's Blue Note in 2012 with a core sextet that includes producer/keyboardist George Whitty, guitarist Mike Stern, bassist Will Lee, drummer Dave Weckl and, stepping into Michael's shoes with all the requisite fire and energy without ever resorting to mere imitation, Randy's wife, Ada Rovatti.
That Michael is missed is undeniable, but his spirit looms large over the entire record's vibe, even if he's not represented compositionally on the studio set, a collection of 11 largely new tunes by Randyonly "Really In For It," one of three to revive his rapping and singing alter ego Randroid, was apparently written in 1971 by the trumpeter but recently unearthed and reworked. The live set does feature one Michael Brecker composition, Straphangin''s funkified title track, but the majority of the high octane 98-minute live set is culled from The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion studio disc, plus two additional tracks from Randy: an incendiary version of "Some Skunk Funk" "played," as Brecker says, "as fast as humanly possible"; and the thundering altered blues of "Inside Out."
The early Brecker Brothers Band actually sported a three-horn frontline, and so alto saxophonist David Sanborn rejoins Brecker and Rovatti for the Latinesque "The Dipshit" and "Really In For It," provingas he did this past summer, on tour with keyboardist Bob Jamesthat he still has plenty of fire on tap when needed. A bevy of guitarists are also featured alongside Sternwho sounds better than ever, managing to step away from some of his more signature lines to deliver some real surprises on the fiery, aptly titled opener, "First Tune of the Set," as well as on the greasy "The Slag," which also features Brecker's only appearance on electric trumpet. Adam Rogers guests on two tunes, delivering a suitably gritty solo on the mid-tempo "The Dipshit," while Dean Brown is featured on the balladic "Elegy for Mike," with Rovatti delivering a soprano saxophone solo that matches, in beauty, the fire she demonstrates on tracks like the samba-centric but ultimately more fusion-fired "Adina." Mitch Stein brings a strange, banjo-esque guitar to the down-and-dirty groove of "R N Bee"; elsewhere, his slide guitar introduces "The Slag," while adding some additional rhythmic support on "Really In For It."
Two tracks feature guest singer Oli Rockberger, who also provides some additional keyboard support, swapping verses with Randroid on "On The Rise" and taking the lead, with his auto-tuned voice, on the catchy "Merry Go Town," on which he also guests for a live version on the DVD.
Brecker is, of course, as top-of-game as ever; two things that can always be counted on from the trumpeter, whether it's the downtown funk of the Brecker Brothers or the nuclear post-bop of the unearthed Pendulum: Live at the Village Vanguard (Mosaic, 2008), is consistent invention and a tone to die for. What he's managed, however, with The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion is a set that keeps the flame of the original group alive with its feet firmly planted in the new millennium. Ada Rovatti isn't Michael Brecker, nor does she need to be; with this set, whether on tenor or soprano (an instrument Michael rarely played), she proves completely capable of standing her own groundno small challenge under the circumstances. Brecker Brothers 2013 isn't Brecker Brothers of the '70s or '90s, nor does it need to be; instead, it's a modern update that, beyond reviving the memory of Randy's departed brother and the music they innovated together, proves that downtown funk still has relevance in the 21st Century.
CD (Studio): First Tune Of The Set; Stellina; The Dipshit; Merry Go Town; The Slag; Really In For It; Elegy For Mike; On The Rise; Adina; R N Bee; Musician's Ol' Lady Dues Blues. DVD (Live): First Tune Of The Set; The Slag; Adina; Really In For It; Straphangin'; Stellina; Merry Go Town; Inside Out; Some Skunk Funk.
Randy Brecker: trumpet (CD#1, CD#3-8, CD#10-11, DVD), flugelhorn (CD#2, CD#9, DVD), electric trumpet (CD#5, DVD); Ada Rovatti: tenor saxophone (CD#1-3, CD#5-6, CD#8, DVD), soprano saxophone (CD#4, CD#6-7, CD#9-10, DVD); Mike Stern: guitar (CD#1, CD#5-6, DVD); Will Lee: bass (CD, DVD); Dave Weckl: drums (CD#1-4, CD#7-9, DVD); George Whitty: keyboards (CD#1, CD#4-10, DVD), percussion (CD#1-2 CD#9-10, DVD), organ (CD#3); programming (CD#1-2, CD#9-10, DVD); Sound Design (CD#4, CD#7-8, DVD), Nurse Wretched (CD#6, DVD); Adam Rogers: guitar (CD#2-3, CD#8, CD#11); David Sanborn: alto saxophone (CD#3, CD#6); Dean Brown: guitar (CD#1, CD#4, CD#7, CD#9)Oli Rockberger: vocals (CD#4, DVD#7), lead vocals (CD#8), keyboards and vocal arrangements (CD#4, DVD#7); Mitch Stein: guitar (CD#5-6, CD#10); Jim Campagnola: baritone saxophone (CD#6, CD#8); Rodney Holmes: drums (CD#5-6, CD#10); Chris Minh Doky: bass (CD#7, CD#9); Randroid: rap (CD#6, CD#8, DVD), vocals (CD#11).
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