The Brecker Brothers: Heavy Metal Be-Bop

The Brecker Brothers band was one of the top jazz-funk groups of the 1970’s. Led by brothers Randy Brecker on trumpet and Michael Brecker on saxophone, the Breckers started out in Philadelphia before becoming major studio players in New York. Randy was a founding member of Blood, Sweat and Tears. Together, Randy and Michael played with Horace Silver, Billy Cobham, and helped found the jazz-rock group Dreams. In 1975, the Brecker Brothers released their debut album, which also featured David Sanborn, Will Lee and Don Grolnick. Drawing on the foundation of existing horn bands like BS&T, Chicago, and the Tower of Power, as well as Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and Motown soul, the Brecker Brothers featured complex be-bop horn lines and sophisticated jazz harmony over a funk groove. Heavy Metal Be-Bop was the band’s fourth album and was released in 1978. The album starts off with a studio cut, East River, that features Neil Jason on bass and vocals and even included Paul Shaffer (from Late Night With David Letterman) on electric piano. East River was a modest radio hit in the U.S. and charted even better in England.

The remaining 5 cuts are the real highlight of Heavy Metal Be-Bop. were recorded live in New York with a smoking hot band that included Barry Finnerty, (who later worked with Miles Davis),  on guitar, Neil Jason on bass, and drum prodigy Terry Bozzio, (fresh from working with Frank Zappa and later a founding member of the band Missing Persons). Randy and Michael both used extensive electronic processing on their instruments, especially the wah-wah pedal. Most of the compositions are by Randy and are drawn from previous studio albums. Inside Out is a harmonically challenging piece in an extended blues format that featured Randy’s wah-wah trumpet playing. Some Skunk Funk is probably their best known song, having previously recorded it on their debut album as well as on Billy Cobham’s A Funky Thide of Sings. Their influence on groups like the house bands for Saturday Night Live and David Letterman’s World’s Most Dangerous Band (later the CBS Orchestra) are clear on this cut. Sponge and Squids are also both popular funk numbers from the band’s repertoire. Perhaps the standout cut is the Michael Brecker feature Funky Sea, Funky Dew. His wah-wah saturated tenor saxophone is featured in fine fashion in this ballad, with an extensive solo cadenza at the end. The band would record two more albums before breaking up in the early 80’s, only to reform again a decade later for two more fine albums on the GRP label. Heavy Metal Be-Bop remains the highpoint of their discography and is probably the most influential fusion album from a horn-based group. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Viewing:

Randy Brecker (with Michael Brecker): Some Skunk Funk