Michael Brecker: Now You See It...(Now You Don't)

John Kelman By

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Michael Brecker—Now You See It (Now You Don't)Michael Brecker
Now You See It...(Now You Don't)

Today's Rediscovery is Now You See It...(Now You Don't), by saxophone giant Michael Brecker.

After the one-two punch of his first two recordings as a leader (excluding his 1982 collaboration with Claus Ogerman, Cityscape)— Michael Brecker (Impulse!, 1987) and Don't Try This At Home (Impulse!, 1988), both featuring high profile guests including Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette and Herbie HancockNow You See It...(Now You Don't) received somewhat less enthusiastic acclaim from critics. Still, it was recognized as the strong recording it is because even a lesser Michael Brecker album—with the combination of his increasing confidence as a writer and ongoing growth as an unmistakable and inimitable improviser possessed of an equally identifiable tone on his instrument—is one well worth hearing.

But time and hindsight has repositioned the album to be just as impressive as its two predecessors. If Now You See It didn't have the overall star power of Brecker's previous outings—focusing more on members of his touring band including pianist Joey Calderazzo, guitarists Mike Stern and Jon Herington, Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum, but still including some high octane guests like Weather Report alumni Omar Hakim and Victor Bailey, along with percussionist Don Alias—it was no less compelling a record...and a different one in its greater reliance on technology and percussion. Some tracks, in fact, included as many as three percussionists in addition to a drummer—and, in one case, drum programming from Jimmy Bralower that added even more color to an already rich Brecker composition, the rhythmically knotty and appropriately titled opener, "Escher Sketch (A Tale of Two Rhythms)," where two different but coinciding rhythms interacted and intersected throughout in a continuos shifting of dominance.

Brecker's writing is nothing short of stellar—the mid-set "Peep" a glorious up-tempo melange of incendiary, cymbal-driven fire and the briefest moments of visceral funk that, in the coda, morphs into a thunderous rock pulse—all bolstered to perfection by bassist Jay Anderson and Nussbaum, with the saxophonist's EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) a dominant voice until he switches to tenor for a solo of such power and focused construction that, were it anyone else, it would be an album highlight...except that with Brecker, he rarely (if ever) delivered anything less. The song also features a positively incendiary duo between Brecker and Nussbaum, a drummer never without work it seems, but whose name (like Anderson's) has never really garnered the visibility it deserves.

The same can be said for Don Grolnick—a Brecker Brothers alum who, while not playing on the record, produced it (as he did Brecker's first two outings). His two compositional contributions are exceptional, in particular his percussion-rich "Dogs in the Wine Shop," which would become a show- stopping solo spot for Brecker when he joined Paul Simon's world tour in support of The Rhythm of the Saints (Columbia, 1990). Like Brecker, Grolnick died far too young at the age of 47 in 1996 and, while he never achieved the popular recognition he deserved, being hired by everyone from Steve Khan, David Sanborn and Mike Mainieri to James Taylor, Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan suggested that he was most certainly a musician's musician.

After Now You See It, Brecker placed his solo career on temporary hiatus for the Brecker Brothers reunion of the early-to-mid-'90s. When he returned he turfed all the electronics for largely acoustic sessions like the seminal Tales from the Hudson (Impulse!, 1996) and one of the most impressive—and remarkable, given his condition—swan songs in jazz, Pilgrimage (Heads Up, 2007), recorded just five months before dying of complications from leukaemia, early in the new year of 2007. But with a massive overall discography—the consequence of being in high demand almost from the beginning of his career—and a solo discography that may be relatively small kbut demonstrates his versatility and broad musical purview, Now You See It...(Now You Don't) stands as a unique recording in Brecker's career—an album well worth rediscovery and reconsideration in his overall body of work.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you know this record, and if so, how do you feel about it?

[Note: You can read the genesis of this Rediscovery column here .]

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