Contemporary Jazz

The Brothers Becker


Listening to Randy Brecker & Michael Brecker's explosive live recording Some Skunk Funk now is surely a more poignant experience than it was upon its release in June of 2006. By that time, Michael's well publicized battles with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and leukemia were unfortunately making more headlines than his music, but the years since the legendary saxophonist's death in January 2007 have given jazz fans time to better appreciate the gifts he left behind.

One of the last, as it turned out, was this extraordinary 2003 concert by the Brecker Brothers and Germany's WDR Big Band (conducted and arranged by Vince Mendoza) in Koln, Germany. When it was released, much was made of the fact that it was available only in the hybrid multichannel SACD format. While the coolest technology of any given time changes, what remains timeless here is the magic Michael and trumpet great Randy created on and off together for years, starting in the '70s.

Still available as part of Concord's holiday SACD sale, Some Skunk Funk features eight Randy tunes, ranging from the title track, "Sponge" and "Levitate" from 1975 to "Shanghigh" and "Let It Go" from 2003. Michael's contributions include "Straphangin'" from the '70s and "Song For Barry" from 1992's Return Of The Brecker Brothers. While the concert now plays as a tribute to Michael, several of the songs were actually shout outs to legends they worked with and admired like Wayne Shorter and Randy's former boss Horace Silver.

Beyond WDR's 14 horns, bassist Will Lee and drummer Peter Erskine join the Breckers. It's glorious to realize that this concert took place a year before Michael -- while performing at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival -- experienced a sharp pain in his back that led to one of music history's most harrowing diagnoses.