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  • Shawn Williams wrote on May 22, 2007 report

    The final chapter of the legendary heavy metal be-bop warrior; Michael Brecker. Pilgrimage is one of the most anticipated long-awaited albums in 2007.

  • CJ Shearn wrote on May 25, 2007 report

    Michael Brecker’s passing from leukemia in January 2007, much like the passing of Tony Williams ten years earlier has left a huge void in music. Brecker had a huge presence on the tenor saxophone, perhaps the biggest influence on players of his generation and younger since John Coltrane. Brecker’s credits are vast and extensive recording with everyone from James Taylor, Michael Franks, and George Clinton as a busy studio musician in New York, but it is his jazz credentials that have also left an indelible mark. Brecker always surrounded himself with great bands on his records as a leader, and this final recording of his life Pilgrimage is no exception featuring Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, John Pattitucci and Jack DeJohnette. Though the saxophonist was fighting through illness, he felt good enough to go in the studio, making his strongest statement since his debut Michael Brecker (MCA/Impulse!, 1986) Brecker’s intensity and lyricism are simply amazing on this record, he sounds in prime form, listeners would not know from what comes out of his horn that he was ill.

    Pilgrimage also represents some of Brecker’s finest writing. The surging opener “The Mean Time” sparkles with beautiful unison passages from Brecker and Metheny, and strong solos from all. Brad Mehldau takes the piano chair for the eerily titled “Five Months From Midnight (Brecker would pass five months later) a beautiful melancholic melody with Brecker, Pattitucci, Metheny and Mehldau n intriguing counterpoint. The pianist takes one of his strongest solos here as well as “Anagram”. “Anagram” really shows off the unique three way hookups between the saxophonist, Metheny and Jack DeJohnette. Brecker takes a long, agile turn, at one point releasing a trademark arpeggio , and in response the drummer unfurls a torrid fill between Brecker and DeJohnette is as natural as breathing, as they have played together on and off for many years. Metheny solos next really feeding off of DeJohnette’s polyrhythmic support, and the drummer himself releases a cooking solo over an extremely tricky bass and piano ostinato.

    “Tumbleweed” is another highlight, it's blues like but not blues from is accented by a unique use of a triggered Middle Eastern vocal sample from Brecker’s EWI which is used nicely on the first bridge. Pat Metheny pulls out the signature Roland GR300 guitar synth here for one of his finest statements on the album, and Brad Mehldau contrapuntally grooves, check and dig his quotation of “He’s a Real Gone Guy”. Brecker and Metheny take the tune out on a wailing collective improvisation, Metheny chomps down hard on the groove at the end with his lines bringing to mind Freddie Hubbard. Brecker’s ballad “When Can I Kiss You Again?” is gorgeous, with Hancock returning on piano, a dark moody bass, and EWI ostinato set off the smoky ambiance, all three soloists contributing greatly to it’s mood. Hancock is an absolute fire breather on “Loose Threads” building enormous tension by going against the time with his phrases, creating one of his most satisfying solos on record in recent years, while he switches to the Fender Rhodes on the title cut. Herbie’s touch on the instrument has not diminished with time, and the warmth he creates on the rubato introduction, and main parts of the tune are reminiscent of when the Rhodes was a regular keyboard in his arsenal. Brecker’s “Maiden Voyage” like feeling on the melody also contributes greatly, while his tremendous prowess on the EWI is also showcased. Brecker and Metheny create a solid hook up again on the return of the theme’s melody, with Metheny switching over to guitar synth bringing the album to an exhilarating close.

    Undoubtedly some listeners will find the music on this album emotionally difficult to take, however this is the ultimate Michael Brecker album. Everyone knew the brief time in which they had to record as well as the physical demands it took on the leader, and everyone plays with tremendous passion, nothing is left for granted. Indeed Michael Brecker lives on, through this effort and everyone’s lives that he touched musically and personally.