Bill Evans & Randy Brecker: Soulbop Band Live

Funk-jazz fusion runs hot and cold with me. Too often it can be lively but soulless. The new concert recording from the Soulbop Band, led by saxophonist Bill Evans and trumpeter Randy Brecker, runs quite hot-though perhaps it should receive a few degrees of demerit for some ill-advised vocals. More on that later.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this two-disc release, which provides more evidence that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of sources-in this case, the death of the saxophonist Bob Berg, who was about to tour with Brecker and was replaced with Evans. The Soulbop Band is fleshed out with a stellar cast of fusion and jazz veterans-guitarist Hiram Bullock, keyboard player David Kikoski, bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Steve Smith.

Though most of the tunes come from the catalogs of Evans and Brecker, each member of this sextet contributes equally to its success. It is Brecker, however, who steals the show when he solos, blowing a typhoon of notes with each turn-furious, fluttering phrases over the organ groove and funky bass line that underpin “Big Fun”; a whiplash-inducing solo over Kikoski’s thick, confident comping on “Soul Bop.”

Each member gets time to shine with their own solos, but unfortunately Bullock also gets a couple of turns at the microphone, marring the deep grooves of “Greed” and “Tease Me” with his pedestrian lyrics and lousy vocals. More embarrassing is Brecker’s insipid rapping on “Hangin’ in the City,” where he informs us that “Hangin’ in the city’s all right with me/Hangin’ in the city, where we’s all we.” Yes, well, we’s unimpressed. Stick to hangin’ with the trumpet, if it’s all right with you.