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The Brecker Brothers: Heavy Metal Bebop

John Kelman By

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The Brecker Brothers—Heavy Metal BebopThe Brecker Brothers
Heavy Metal Bebop
Arista
1978

While artists more often than not look for an album title that in some way reflects the music contained within, few have come up with a name that, in three simple words, says it all as much as today's Rediscovery: The Brecker Brothers' Heavy Metal Bebop. A positively incendiary live recording (barring bassist Neil Jason's funkified, studio-recorded, set-opening vocal anthem, "East River"), it sports a completely revamped lineup from the group's Don't Stop the Music (Arista), released the previous year. While this album was reviewed as part of Legacy Recordings' 2012 box set, The Complete Arista Albums Collection, its sheer power and raw energy demanded inclusion as a Rediscovery.

And, as expected, it sounds absolutely tremendous through my Tetra Speaker rig. This is an album that—featuring a core quintet where saxophonist Michael Brecker and trumpeter Randy Brecker are joined, in addition to Jason, by guitarist Barry Finnerty and drummer Terry Bozzio, with additional percussion and overdubs added in post-production—rips through some of the best material from the group's earlier albums, including a light speed version of "Some Skunk Funk" and slightly faster, even more nuclear-infused take on "Sponge," both from the group's 1975 Arista debut, The Brecker Bros.

A slight breather comes with Don't Stop the Music's generally mellower "Funky Sea, Funky Dew," Michael's only compositional contribution to the set. Still, an extended a cappella and heavily processed saxophone outro is both an album highlight and demonstration of why Michael was already one of the most influential saxophonists of his generation...and would go on to become even more so in the decades leading to his untimely passing in 2007 at the too-young age of 57. A closing "Squids," from the same record, also feels less wholly unfettered than the album's first three live tracks, but still possessed more attitude and energy per square inch at a time when fusion was, in general, slowly morphing its way into the easier-on- the-ears predecessor to what would ultimately become smooth jazz. The album's only previously unheard live track is also its first live one: Randy's potently altered blues, "Inside Out," played with a greasy shuffle from Jason and Bozzio that, quite simply, means it.

Throughout this 42-minute set—all but three of them recorded live at My Father's Place in Roslyn, NY—the entire band plays as if its life depended on it. Michael Brecker soars, while older brother Randy (similarly processing his horn with a harmonizer, envelope filter and more) matches his younger sibling's energy note for searing note, the pair seemingly unable to play anything but the right note at the right time—except, occasionally, when they played the wrong note at precisely the right time...because with music this unshackled, there are no wrong notes, just ones that drive the player(s) in unexpected directions. While rarely featured, Jason and Bozzio keep the pulse at a fever pitch throughout, thundering where necessary—especially on the high octane "Sponge" where, with a new solo section, a three-way trade-off between the two Breckers and Finnerty represents the album at its most reckless, raw and relentless—but laying back as required with equal aplomb.

The surprise of the set is, however, Finnerty. Having first heard the guitarist on a live radio broadcast of the Crusaders, playing a solo to the title track of keyboardist Joe Sample's Rainbow Seeker (ABC, 1978) that remains memorable to this day, it was clear that he may have had big shoes to fill in replacing Larry Carlton in that group but—clearly imbued with similar chops and linguistic command—the guitarist brought an edgier New York vibe and completely different kind of lyricism to the successful Texan-centric West Coast group.

So, when finally hearing Heavy Metal Bebop for the first time—a little late to the game, a couple years after it was first released—I already knew he had all he needed to not just match the two Breckers, but to actually up the ante. While the Breckers take the lion's share of the solo space, every time Finnerty is featured it's a revelation...and all the more a crime that, despite remaining active in the ensuing years, the guitarist has never managed to garner the broader acclaim he deserves—if nothing else based on his contribution to Heavy Metal Bebop but, with Miles Davis, Billy Cobham, Hubert Laws and Eliane Elias also in his résumé, clearly possessing even more.

The Brecker Brothers would continue recording and touring—even reuniting in 1992, after a lengthy hiatus, for two superb studio records: The Return of the Brecker Brothers (GRP, 1992) and Out of the Loop (GRP, 1994), along with a live concert video crying out for DVD and/or Blu Ray reissue. But while the group would make other superb records, in particular its first-period swan song, Straphangin' (Arista, 1981), it would never make another record like Heavy Metal Bebop.

Still, with the same lineup reuniting in 2014 for tours of Europe and Japan (with Ada Rovatti in the saxophone chair) who knows? Maybe there will be an album culled from those dates, just as The Brecker Brothers Reunion (Piloo, 2013) came out of both a studio date CD, led by Randy in 2011 with a different (and expanded) lineup, and a concert DVD recorded the following year at the Blue Note in New York City.

Hope may spring eternal...but in the meantime there's still Heavy Metal Bebop—indeed the heaviest album The Brecker Brothers ever made; a fusion record that, with its in-your-face energy and attitude, could only have come out of the Big Apple...and is the perfect Rediscovery to scratch a most particular itch.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you know this record, and if so, how do you feel about it?


[Note: You can read the genesis of this Rediscovery column here.]
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