Brecker brothers head for more challenging sounds. No longer boxed in by fusion-funk style
New York — THE Brecker brothers were flying high in the late '70s with their innovative fusion of jazz and funky rock on albums like ``Back to Back,'' ``Don't Stop the Music,'' and ``The Brecker Brothers.'' Both trumpeter Randy and saxophonist Michael have always delved into different styles of music, and today are continuing to explore new musical directions. Michael Brecker was nominated for a Grammy last year for his first solo album, titled simply ``Michael Brecker.'' He's just come out with his second album, ``Don't Try This at Home.''
``I was always open to styles,'' he said. ``I never seemed to have any really heavy attitude as long as it was good music. I take things concerning rhythm and harmony pretty seriously, but in terms of style I have always made an effort not to judge one thing above the next.''
That statement seems to sum up what Michael and his brother, trumpeter Randy, are all about. They've played with artists as diverse as Charles Mingus, Eric Clapton, Diana Ross, George Benson, Frank Zappa, and Bruce Springsteen. The open-mindedness that allowed them back in the '70s to call one of their albums ``Heavy Metal Be-Bop'' is the same spirit they both have today.
Randy and Michael grew up in Philadelphia in a musical home. Their father was a jazz pianist, and the house was always filled with the sounds of Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, and John Coltrane. Michael, who started playing clarinet as a child, switched to saxophone after he heard Cannonball Adderley. Both brothers went to New York at an early age and became professional musicians. Eventually they both became a part of drummer Billy Cobham's Dreams - a band that used a jazz horn section on top of a rock beat. ``There was no term for fusion back then; we were just searching for new ways to break the barriers,'' says Michael.
Thus the ground was laid for the Brecker Brothers, which Randy and Michael formed in 1975. The group put out six highly successful albums and brought the Breckers considerable notoriety.
Since then, Michael was involved with the band Steps Ahead, which started out as an acoustic group, but gradually evolved into an electronic fusion band. Today he has his own touring band (featuring former Miles Davis guitarist Mike Stern), who appears on his new album. Meanwhile Randy married Eliane Elias, a Brazilian pianist/singer/composer, and formed a group with her.
Michael discovered the wonders of the EWI (electronic wind instrument, pronounced ``ee-wee'') a few years back. The EWI looks like a boxy clarinet, but has an unearthly range and as many sounds as a keyboard synthesizer.
Michael says of the new instrument: ``It's enabled me to participate directly in a kind of electrically generated environment, rather than be playing an acoustic instrument all the time and surrounding myself with electronic instruments. The tenor sax has never fit into that form. I'd rather play tenor in a more acoustic environment - it feels freer.''
But Michael found that the EWI also blended beautifully with the all-acoustic group on both of his albums. One piece on his new album, a fascinating Irish folk-melody-turned-jazz-blockbuster titled ``Itsbynne Reel,'' demonstrates both the wide-ranging sounds of the EWI and the power of the tenor saxophone. On the other hand, Randy, who released a mainstream acoustic jazz CD last year, ``In the Idiom,'' had this to say: `The ideal is to do acoustic projects separately. I've divided music up into two camps - stuff that I hear acoustically and stuff I hear electronically.'' And he wants to get away from the relative simplicity of the music he used to play in the Brecker Brothers band.
``Michael and I were boxed-in in that band, because it had a reputation as a fusion-funk band. At the time, that was what we were into, but we outgrew it. Now I want to play things that are more complicated, more harmonically challenging.''