Sunday, June 24, 2007

Michael Brecker's Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage, the final CD from late tenor saxophone great Michael Brecker, was released posthumously. It's turned out to be one of the year's finest jazz releases, a collection of intriguing new compositions by Brecker, performed by an all-star band: The saxophonist is joined by pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Below is my review, as published in the St. Petersburg Times. A different version of the review appeared in Las Vegas CityLife.

Michael Brecker, Pilgrimage (Heads Up)

Even those who don't know Michael Brecker's name know his sound on tenor saxophone, a wiry but full-bodied presence on hundreds of jazz and pop recordings. He played on discs by Steely Dan, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell and New York funksters the Brecker Brothers. So don't just take it on faith: Brecker, who died of leukemia at age 57 in January, was an instrumentalist and composer of the highest order.

Pilgrimage is Brecker's final and most accomplished work. For the CD, recorded in four days last August during a period when the saxophonist was seemingly bound for recovery, he was joined by longtime musical compadres Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette, and a new collaborator, pianist Brad Mehldau.

The all-star group might have been expected to concoct something quiet, reverential, a long, prayerful goodbye. Hardly. Aside from the gorgeous ballad When Can I Kiss You Again? its title a heartbreaking reference to a question once posed by Brecker's teenage son when his dad was in quarantine, there's nothing here that can remotely be described as sentimental. Instead, Brecker, playing as exuberantly and aggressively as ever, leads his bandmates on a set of original compositions Metheny has called "ridiculously hard." These tunes, beginning with opener The Mean Time, are marked by long, supple melody lines, sudden rhythmic twists and complex harmonic progressions.

Pilgrimage is brainy, but full of heart, too, with generous, tight ensemble work and thrilling improvisations. A few highlights: the remarkably conversant exchange between Brecker and drummer DeJohnette closing out Cardinal Rule; Metheny's probing six-string solo on the zigzagging Anagram; and the majestic, sonorous title track. Grade: A+

No comments: