JAZZ / Breaking out of the shadows: So long the boys in the background, the Brecker brothers are back together as a band in their own right. Jason Nisse met them

You can't get away from the Brecker brothers. Go to a club and any DJ worth their salt will spin their 1978 hit 'East River' ('Eeeast river, paaa de paaah. Put your hands together. Ha ha haaaah.') Go to a Paul Simon concert and who's that with the receding hairline and the tenor sax, being given his own song to play with? Mike Brecker. Go home and put on Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run. Who plays the lilting trumpet on 'Meeting Across The River'? Randy Brecker. Who are the razor-sharp horn section on '10th Avenue Freeze Out'? Randy, Mike and their long-time associate, David Sanborn, on alto sax.

But despite the high exposure, the Breckers stopped recording together in 1982. Now they're back, with an album - Return of the Brecker Brothers - and a series of concerts with a band of jazz-funk all-stars.

'We never intended to take so long a break,' says Mike, who at 43 is the younger by four years. 'We've been talking about it for years, but other opportunities got in the way.' Mike looks like a doctor and speaks like a Vice-Presidential candidate. His bearded brother blends into the background, occasionally muttering comments like an extra from a Cheech & Chong movie. They are jazz's answer to Was (Not Was).

In the 1970s these sons of a piano-playing lawyer were hot. They came from Philadelphia - the home of not only the Philly sound, but jazz stars such as Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones. Randy was first, hitting the New York jazz scene in the late 1960s. He landed gigs with the trumpeter Clark Terry and briefly joined Blood Sweat & Tears, who wedded rock with big-band jazz. Randy enjoyed playing with Blood Sweat & Tears, but wanted his own train set, and soon he had enlisted the help of his little brother.

In 1969 they formed the first of a series of influential fusion groups - Dreams. Featuring such luminaries as the drummer Billy Cobham and the guitarist John Abercrombie, they released two albums before splitting up. Randy and Mike found themselves courted by Horace Silver, James Taylor and Yoko Ono. Meanwhile they were making a fortune on the session circuit - appearing, credited and uncredited, on albums for Springsteen, James Brown, Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan among others.

'We did it partly for the money, partly for the experience,' says Mike, the voice of reason. 'We worked with a very high level of musicians and there were many things to be learned.'

'And it was short,' adds Randy. 'You went into the studio, they told you what to do and it was over in two or three hours.'

As session men, they found themselves at the whim of temperamental stars and producers. At one session with James Brown, the soul singer couldn't persuade the band of talented jazz musicians to play the funk he wanted, so he went to the drummer, Steve Gadd, and pulled him off the drum-kit. 'He started playing the drums himself, and he still couldn't get what he wanted,' remembers Randy.

For his part, Mike missed out on the chance to impersonate Clarence Clemons, the Big Man in Springsteen's band. When Clemons couldn't play a particular break, Mike was asked to fill in. 'I did it but they didn't like it so they asked David Sanborn, and he killed me. He played the break beautifully. But they didn't like that either and they cut it out of the record.'

Eventually the Breckers grew tired of being called in to add a few pa paas ('Ah, but what pa paas,' says Randy) and concentrated on their own group. In six barnstorming albums in the late 1970s, the Breckers made jazz-funk that lived up to its name - jazz that you could dance to.

When they moved on in 1982, it was Mike who came to prominence. Joining with Mike Manieri, he formed Steps Ahead (aka Steps, aka Five Easy Pieces). The band's name changed first because they were asked to do a Japanese tour, and the promoter could not pronounce Five Easy Pieces, and second because a North Carolina band called Steps threatened to sue.

Steps Ahead were a fusion fan's fusion band - they made the music you buy when you have graduated from Weather Report and Maze - and Mike soon found that he was hankering more towards acoustic jazz. A few sessions with artists on the ECM label, such as Kenny Wheeler, led him to his 1987 album, Mike Brecker, which won Down Beat magazine's Jazz Album of the Year award, and two follow-ups.

Last year was spent touring with Paul Simon on his Rhythm of the Saints tour. 'I've always been interested in African music and joining Paul Simon's band gave me the opportunity to play with and learn from African musicians.'

The African infusion can be heared on Return of the Brecker Brothers, particularly on the Cameroonian-influenced 'Wakaria (Wake Up)', as well as Brazilian lilts picked up by Randy from his wife, Elaine Elias. Mike rejects accusations of musical colonialism, levelled by such greats as Keith Jarrett, who regularly lectures his concert audiences on the evils of combining world music with jazz. 'It all depends on the intention of the musician,' says Mike. 'If a musican intends to learn, I don't think it applies.'

The Breckers do not intend to leave it 11 years before they record together again. 'We have it loosely planned to keep on making records every two or three years,' says Mike.

'That's unless other things get in the way,' adds Randy.

'It's a loose plan,' smiles Mike, ever the voice of reason.

The Breckers play the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday 28 October. 'Return of the Brecker Brothers' is on GRP Records

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine