Some Skunk Funk
CAT # 63647
1. Some Skunk Funk 6:26 1. Some Skunk Funk 6:26 2. Sponge 6:46 2. Sponge 6:46 3. Shanghigh 6:26 3. Shanghigh 6:26 4. Wayne Out 4:56 4. Wayne Out 4:56 5. And Then She Wept 6:07 5. And Then She Wept 6:07 6. Straphangin' 8:18 6. Straphangin' 8:18 7. Let It Go 8:02 7. Let It Go 8:02 8. Freefall 6:17 8. Freefall 6:17 9. Levitate 4:58 9. Levitate 4:58 10. Song For Barry 10:32 10. Song For Barry 10:32
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The Brecker Brothers, the dynamic brother act from Philadelphia, made its self-titled recording debut at the height of the fusion movement in 1975. Their signature brand of tightly-crafted, swaggering funk-jazz quickly caught on with crossover fans, establishing the brothers—trumpeter Randy and his younger tenor saxophonist brother Michael—as bona fide stars of the era. They would follow the initial success of Brecker Brothers with a string of equally sophisticated funk-jazz recordings through the remainder of the decade, with Back To Back, Don’t Stop the Music, Heavy Metal Be-Bop, Detente and the Brecker Brothers’ 1982 swan song, Straphangin’. The brothers subsequently went separate ways—Randy hooking up with Jaco Pastorius and Michael joining the band Steps Ahead. Eventually deciding to pursue solo careers, each would go on to make a string of acclaimed jazz recordings as leader of his own band through the ’80s, before reuniting in the early ’90s for a new supercharged edition of the popular Brecker Brothers Band.
With the release of Some Skunk Funk, the brothers are back together again, this time performing expanded big band arrangements of familiar Brecker Brothers tunes from the past as well as a few newer originals from Randy’s last two recordings as a leader. This dynamic live outing (recorded in Köln, Germany, in November 2003) captures Randy and Michael in rare concert form with Germany’s WDR Big Band, conducted by Vince Mendoza, who also came up with stellar new arrangements for Brecker Brothers classics like “Sponge,” “Straphangin’” and the explosive title track.
The recording features eight Randy compositions spanning the past 30 years, including “Some Skunk Funk,” “Sponge” and “Levitate” from 1975’s Brecker Brothers, “And Then She Wept” from the Brecker Brother’s 1994 recording Out of the Loop, “Wayne Out” from Randy’s 2001 recording Hangin’ in the City and “Shanghigh” and “Let It Go” from Randy’s 2003 outing, 34th & Lex. The elder Brecker brother also contributes a brand new piece in the swinging “Freefall,” which was composed in the tradition of the great Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s album Free For All. Michael contributes two originals in “Straphangin’” from 1975’s Brecker Brothers and “Song For Barry” from 1992’s Return of the Brecker Brothers.
Inspired by the presence of the WDR big band, which is powered by former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine (who also had significant tenures with the Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton big bands early on in his career) and anchored by bassist Will Lee (a former Dreams and original Brecker Brothers bandmate), the brothers rise to the occasion with some of their most exhilarating improvising on record. “It was a lot of work to put the whole thing together,” says Randy, “but I think it was a great night.”
Randy adds “I think this recording shows Mike off in a way that a lot of us like to hear him—in that jazz-funk context where he is really his own man. That’s where he truly is the one and only Michael Brecker. Also, Peter just played his ass off through the whole evening and had a great time doing it. And I think I played pretty well myself, considering the pressure we were under. Everyone gave it their all.”
With no chances for second takes or overdubs, the Breckers were working without a net on this powerful big band outing. The excitement is almost palpable in the Köln concert hall as Michael unleashes titanic tenor solos on the fusion anthem “Some Skunk Funk,” the soulful “Straphangin’,” and the Latin jazz-flavored “Song For Barry” (an ode to the Breckers’ former Dreams bandmate, trombonist Barry Rogers). Randy turns in exceptional solos on “Sponge,” his own signature piece from the early Brecker Brothers days, and also on the harmonically adventurous “Wayne Out” (inspired by Wayne Shorter’s more recent writing) and the grooving, soul-jazz number “Shanghigh.” He also offers some poignant lines on his gorgeous ballad “And Then She Wept,” which is given a lush treatment here by Mendoza, and demonstrates some particularly heartfelt playing on the darkly beautiful “Levitate,” a moving elegy that builds to dramatic proportions. Elsewhere, Randy also wails with bebop abandon on the uptempo swinger “Freefall,” and blows some bristling electrified trumpet on the funky “Let It Go.”
Aside from capturing the Brecker Brothers in their rare encounter with the WDR Big Band, Some Skunk Funk also resonates with deeper meaning in the face of Michael’s current life-and-death struggle. He has been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare illness requiring a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a similar genetic background. Randy says that Mike was feeling fine at the time of this recording, and that symptoms didn’t begin to appear until September 2004. By spring of 2005, he was forced to cancel tours with both Steps Ahead and the acclaimed Saxophone Summit (with fellow tenor players Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman). He spent seven weeks at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York undergoing chemotherapy to combat his illness. The fight is ongoing, but Michael’s spirits have been buoyed by the thousands of prayers and well wishes from fans the world over.
Find out more about Randy Brecker And Michael Brecker