MTH-V: Michael Brecker

This past Friday (01.13) marked the fifth anniversary of Michael Brecker‘s death. His music and musicianship definitely touches me still. Not only was he one of the tenor saxophone’s greatest technicians, but he played with a deep intensity and emotional to match.

Of the many reasons to love Michael’s playing and ethic, one that particularly stands out to me is his stylistic versatility, having attained a great degree of commercial success in pop music while maintaining a career as a heavy, widely-respected jazz musician. His funk and fusion work with his brother Randy in the Brecker Brothers is of course widely known to most musicians, but his work with James Taylor, Joni Mitchell (if you aren’t familiar with Shadows and Light, go buy it right now), and Paul Simon exposed his name and playing to a much wider audience. (His solo on James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” is classic.) And then of course his more straight ahead and avant-garde jazz roots shone brightly in his solo work and that with his longtime collaborators in Saxophone Summit. (His playing was evidence of his deep love for Coltrane’s late period. In fact, it made his passing the day after Alice Coltrane‘s death that much more eerie.)

While there are hundreds of videos I could choose from, I’ve chosen only a few. This first video is from a Vienna performance of Herbie’s “The Sorcerer” with Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Willie Jones III. I saw Michael Brecker live with a variation of this band (with bassist Scott Colley and the always intense Terri Lyne Carrington on drums) a couple months before his disease was made public. Brecker was quite pale, and, though he spent much of the night sitting on a stool or offstage when not playing, he absolutely destroyed Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. Enjoy Herbie ripping it up at the top; Brecker’s solo starts at 3:55.

Just when you thought Brecker had no need for improvements, here’s an excerpt of a 1996 interview with Jazz’s web documentarian Bret Primack:

And what post remembering Michael would be complete with Brecker Brothers’ “Some Skunk Funk”? (With Mike Stern, drummer Dennis Chambers [whom you should recognize from the Stern/Berg post], bassist James Genus, and keyboardist George Whitty.) This is BURNIN’!

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