Live and Unreleased is a live recording from their July 2, 1980, gig at Onkel P’s Carnegie Hall in Hamburg. Everything and everyone was on and they truly never sounded better. Randy Brecker commented on brother Michael’s performance and said, “Brother Mike was at the top of his game—well, he never wasn’t at the top of his game—and we were clicking as the Brothers horn section.”
According to Randy's liner notes, it was also a time when Michael was writing more and more and a full four tracks on this double-CD are Michael’s original compositions and five are from Randy. And, seriously, the liner notes from Randy and the insert booklet from Bill Milkowski are both worthy of careful attention and enjoyment.
With Randy and Michael Brecker is the amazing Barry Finnerty on guitar, Mark Gray on keyboards, Neil Jason on bass and sometime vocals, and Richie Morales on drums. This was a band who swing, drive, and create the most bone-crushing funk you could ever hope to hear. In a decade full of great Jazz-fusion bands like Return to Forever and Weather Report, the Brecker Brothers never lost their Be-Bop sensibilities and yet could roll as hard as any rock band you care to name.
Thankfully, it is a 2-CD set covering nearly two hours.
The album opens with Michael’s Straphangin’. It is kicked off with the horns almost fanfare intro before Neil Jason’s bass thunders the transition. Mark Gray accompanies on the keyboards and he early and often leaves no doubt how he landed this gig with the Brothers. Then comes the solos. Randy takes off in a run to make Rimsky-Korsakov do a double-take. Michael’s sax solo is a beauty even though Randy intimates that his brother did not always enjoy the song. Still, Michael’s roomy solo is not rushed and it gives space to the others’ contributions. The song concludes with the same fanfare as it began.
Tee’d Off—another Michael piece—is one of four pieces from the album Détente. Michael’s cool sax takes the lead before a glorious combo with Randy then into a tough-as-nails duck and punch with Jason slap-funking the daylights out of his bass. Barry Finnerty cuts loose on some brilliant guitar work, melodic and harmonic. Listen carefully to Morales’ drumming throughout the album.
Sponge is a Randy original and was originally released on 1975’s The Brecker Brother. As my cousin said at the time, “This mother smokes.” Randy and Michael both turn this song from their debut album loose with Finnerty, Gray, Jason, and Morales earning their pay over and over. Randy’s trumpet solos make other world-renowned trumpeters sound like kids with kazoos. And you just can’t get enough of Finnerty. Gray’s keyboard solo is fascinating while Jason and Morales anchor the funk. Smokes.
Funky Sea, Funky Dew (Michael Brecker, comp.) comes from the 1977 album Don’t Stop the Music. Michael takes centerstage on this one and the original 6:13 is stretched to a riotous 18:41. Again, Michael doesn’t fill up his time with aggressive runs but takes time to lay it out slowly and give room to everyone else. Finnerty gets in some excellent chops. Even at almost 19 minutes, it seems too brief.
Side 1 closes with another Michael original, I Don’t Know Either is the second track from the Détente album. Gray and the horns are tight together and Finnerty’s strumming adds a funky bite to the bit. Randy’s hot trumpet cools off for a moment in micro-trades with Finnerty. Some serious stretching going on here, too. But, after all, this was a live recording and you got to give the people what they want.
Mark Gray gets his extended solo in Inside Out, Randy’s composition originally released on the 1978 Live album, Heavy Metal Be-Bop. The thunderous bass line from Jason is a shaker. Randy’s trumpet solo is coolly bluesy and the Michael sax bit is equally cool. Again, everybody gets to offer some beautiful passages along the way. This track just tore it up. It wound up being my favorite track on the album. Listen and you’ll know why.
After such tight Jazz, the Funk returns with Baffled from—once again--Détente. Morales gets the attention with an long and developed solo that shows why he’s aboard. The Latin groove is fantastic. The band returns to more melodic Jazz after Morales’ solo. Composer Randy serves up some beautifully delicious trumpet morsels. The tightknit delivery of Gray and Finnerty is worthy of close hearing.
Some Skunk Funk (Randy’s composition from The Brecker Brothers) is furious and, like Randy says, “has become something of a rite of passage for young musicians.” Michael’s effected sax is stunning and then comes the bass-solo-to-end-all-bass-solos. This song is the stuff legends are made of. The whole band closes out the piece to uproarious applause before the band leaps into the…
East River. Bassist Neil Jason co-wrote the piece with Cash Monet. His real name? Randy says, “He was just Ralphy from Brooklyn, as far as I knew.” Finnerty again gets fantastic guitar work in and Jason takes on the vocals along with the hot bass. The song first appeared on Heavy Metal Be-Bop and the funk is fabulous.
The album closes with Don’t Get Funny with My Money from, of course, Détente. Get this: Luther Vandross co-wrote the lyrics with Randy Brecker. Vandross arranged the vocals and appeared as a backing vocalist on the Breckers’ second album, Back to Back. The song sounds like the lovechild of Rick James and Frank Zappa.
What a way to end a concert and an album. If the ideal is always leave them wanting more, then Live and Unreleased does just that. Even at nearly two hours, you never want the album to end. Maybe it’s because of the early passing of Michael Brecker in 2007 or because we will never get to see the Brecker Brothers band again. Or maybe it’s just because this is one hot album full of amazing artistry and composing and arranging that fills what your heart longs to hear.
Yeah, that’s it.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl