Ready for a little trip back into the vaults, kids? Back in 1991, Saturday Night Live saxophonist Lenny Pickett released this now super-obscure and hard-to-find album with his band, the Borneo Horns, which consisted of him and two other sax players (Steve Elson and Stan Harrison), plus a drummer and occasional additional horns. Now, while they’re hardly the only predominantly sax-based band that ever existed (see also: World Saxophone Quartet and one of our favorites, the skronk-tastic Little Women), they’re arguably the funkiest. A typical Borneo Horns joint sounds like a cross between James Brown, a New Orleans parade band and the theme music from Benny Hill. You can’t decide to whether to dance your ass off or laugh your ass off—and both are probably equally valid responses.
I was lucky enough to see the Borneo Horns in college back around the time the album came out (which I swear was in ’89, but Amazon.com has it listed as ’91 and I was admittedly drunk a lot back then) and let me tell you, they could rock it out. Pickett is mostly famous these days for those wailing high notes he squeezes out as that week’s SNL host bounds onto the stage, but he’s also got an amazing sense of rhythm and syncopation. He got his start playing in the horn section of funk band Tower of Power and that stuff is clearly in his blood.
These days, it’s hard to come by much information about the Borneo Horns, let alone their actual music. The one and only Lenny Pickett with the Borneo Horns album is out of print and will set you back upwards of $200 for a used vinyl copy. The blog Music Hertz has a good little piece about the album, and you can hear several Borneo Horns tracks on Lenny Pickett’s sorta cool, sorta annoying official website. But beyond that, the genius of the Borneo Horns has been mostly lost in the mists of time. Which really has me kicking myself, because I used to own a cassette copy of Lenny Pickett with the Borneo Horns and I have no idea where it is now. I purged most of my cassettes years ago, so it’s probably gathering dust in a Goodwill somewhere.
Fortunately, some kind soul did post this one Borneo Horns track on YouTube, so we can share some of Lenny’s funky magic here. Cooler than the SNL theme music, isn’t it?
- Lenny Pickett official site (we think)
- Lenny Pickett & the Borneo Horns on MySpace (probably unofficial…no band info, just one uploaded song)
- Lenny Pickett page on NYU Steinhardt School site (yep, he’s a jazz professor)
- Lenny Pickett on Facebook (fan page)