Michael Brecker Band & Randy Brecker Band: Live At Fabrik

The brothers were on separate tours that crossed in Hamburg, with musicians including Mike Stern, Joey Calderazzo, Bob Berg and David Kikoski


One of the marked influences of rock on jazz was its late superbowl manifestation: the need to stuff with sound huge spaces already crammed with a multitude of fans oscillating between adoration and expectation. I don’t know how big Hamburg’s Fabrik cultural centre is but it used to be a machine-parts factory, so the spectral ambience is probably metallic and echoing.

It suited Michael Brecker 35 years ago, then on tour with a new band of younger musicians playing tunes from his Impulse debut. It definitely suited guitarist Mike Stern, whose sound balloons into the venue’s farthest recesses and sometimes screeches jazz-rock lines to fulfil another superbowl tendency: the need to work the multitude into a lather. Brecker himself does a fair amount of shrieking into the void, as on Don Grolnick’s Nothing Personal, the longest track on this double CD album, shared with his brother Randy. But it introduces the first modest employment of electronica by Brecker himself, soon to be compounded.

Much of Mike’s playing here is on the EWI – he might well have been the first to turn that pipeful of sinusoid wattage into a virtuoso’s instrument incorporating samples – and the impression is of his seeking possibilities while the aforementioned Grolnick chart in this performance was no more than the unfurling of emblazoned banners (only drummer Adam Nussbaum keeps his mostly rolled). Brecker’s romantic side, displayed on My One And Only Love, arrives as the sharpest of sharp contrasts.

Stern’s Upside Downside finds the guitarist first picking the staccato tune against a rock beat and later footing the chorus pedal to give width and depth. On his EWI intro to Original Rays, a seven-minute wonderment, Brecker shows the marshalled electrics’ capabilities. It’s not long, though, before his searing ride-out on tenor and a similar battle charge from Stern.

Randy Brecker’s band appeared at Fabrik on the same bill and on the same day but, as he noted, the brothers were on different paths. One link between the two is Stern’s composition, Search, on which it’s salutary to compare the similarities between brother Michael and Randy’s post-Miles saxist, the late-lamented Bob Berg, whose contribution is also kaleidoscopic, up-and-at-’em and even shrill. It’s a Berg feature, on which the increasing pitch of intensity is superbly controlled and abetted by drummer Joey Baron. And what gorgeous tone these gladiatorial 1980s saxists could project at slower speeds. Randy’s sensitive solo on Forever Young compares with brother Michael’s ballad on his disc.

Baron is the star on Berg’s Snakes, maintaining a Latin vibe and, with David Kikoski’s piano and Dieter Ilg’s bass, again modulating the rising ferocity before being rewarded with a solo that establishes its own bravura and tempi. It’s a fun chart: Randy is on open horn and Kikoski, late of the Charles Mingus Big Band, offers a fresh, almost idiosyncratic, take on the tune’s carnival mode. Randy opts for the Harmon fore and aft on a jaunty version of On Green Dolphin Street, clearing the deck and allowing everyone to play fast and loose with the changes.

CD1: (1) Nothing Personal; Choices; Upside Downside; My One And Only Love; Original Rays (71.45)
CD2: (2) No Scratch; Search; There’s A Mingus A Monk Us; On Green Dolphin Street; Forever Young; Snakes (64.35)
(1) Michael Brecker (ts, elec); Mike Stern (g); Joey Calderazzo (kyb); Jeff Andrews (b); Adam Nussbaum (d). Hamburg, 18 October 1987.
(2) Randy Brecker (t); Bob Berg (ts); David Kikoski (p); Dieter Ilg (b); Joey Baron (d). Same place and date.
Jazzline Classics/NDR Kultur D77102