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Michael Brecker: Pilgrimage & Seraphic Light

Tom Greenland By

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Michael Brecker
Heads Up International

Saxophone Summit
Seraphic Light

Michael Brecker (tenor sax) was a musicians' musician, with jaw-dropping chops and a unique and highly influential harmonic and melodic style. Pilgrimage, his last recording, was made shortly before he passed on Jan. 13th, 2007 from myelodysplastic syndrome. Despite failing health this is a fine effort, one his best.

The band is A-1: Pat Metheny (guitar), John Patitucci (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums) and Herbie Hancock or Brad Mehldau (piano). The compositions, all Brecker's, display depth and maturity. "The Mean Time," "Tumbleweed" and "Cardinal Rule" are hook-laden with interesting chord changes and subtle surprises; "Anagram" has a driving fusion-esque line; "Five Months from Midnight" and "When Can I Kiss You Again?" are ballads, the former a study in perpetual motion, the latter unsentimentally gorgeous. Brecker's playing is, as always, technically brilliant, but more, it expands the language and sense of possibilities. His "Anagram" solo is stunning, packed with ideas, busy without feeling crowded; the hailstorm of notes during "Tumbleweed" recalls Coltrane's sheets of sound; the bravura improv on "Loose Threads" takes no prisoners; and "Cardinal Rule" contains sparky 'duels' with Mehldau, then DeJohnette. On "Kiss," however, Brecker is understated and poignant. Mehldau delivers an ambidextrous solo on "Tumbleweed"; Metheny contributes fine leads, tasteful comping and sensitive doubling; Patitucci takes an effective turn on "Cardinal Rule"; Hancock gushes ideas with intellectual abandon on the title cut; and DeJohnette's dry cymbals, chatterbox toms and inquisitive musical personality are an omnipresent asset.

Brecker was an original member of Saxophone Summit, a tenor supergroup including Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman, plus Phil Markowitz (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). Ravi Coltrane (tenor) replaces Brecker on the group's second release, Seraphic Light. Continuing its original mission to celebrate the music of late-period Coltrane, this outing features heavy blowing—not exactly free jazz, but jazz 'free-ly.' The first half features compositions by each member, accessible melodies and arrangements that fully exploit Liebman (soprano sax, flutes) and Lovano's (flute, alto clarinet, autochrome) doubling talents, but the heart of the group comes to the fore on the last three cuts: "Cosmos," the title track and "Expression," all Coltrane covers and templates for excursions into ecstatica and dissonance. Liebman really shines here, rolling out blistering manifestos of soul and ice. Brecker is remembered in "Message to Mike," an upbeat romp penned by brother Randy, featuring group soloing and a party vibe—a fitting send-off for one of the tenor saxophone's greatest exponents.

Tracks & Personnel


Tracks: The Mean Time; Five Months from Midnight; Anagram; Tumbleweed; When Can I Kiss You Again?; Cardinal Rule; Half Moon Lane; Loose Threads; Pilgrimage.

Personnel: Michael Brecker: tenor sax & EWI; Pat Metheny: guitar; Herbie Hancock: piano; Brad Mehldau: piano; John Patitucci: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

Seraphic Light

Tracks: Transitions; The Thirteenth Floor; Reneda; All About You; Message to Mike; Alpha and Omega; Our Daily Bread; Cosmos; Seraphic Light; Expression.

Personnel: Ravi Coltrane: tenor sax; David Liebman: tenor & soprano saxophones; C & wooden flute; Joe Lovano: tenor sax, alto clarinet, Scottish flute, autochrome/double soprano sax; Randy Brecker: trumpet.


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