Solo Transcriptions – The Michael Brecker Collection
Live in Helsinki
Video – Live at the Vanguard with John Abercrombie
Tales From The Hudson
From Herbie Hancock’s New Standards band tour, 1997, featuring Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone; John Scofield, guitar; Herbie Hancock, piano; Dave Holland, bass; Jack DeJohnette on drums and Don Alias on percussion. This is Michael’s solo on Stevie Wonder’s “You’ve Got It Bad Girl.”
Michael Brecker, the Philadelphia-born saxophonist star could hurl out more notes faster than almost all of his fellow-practitioners, but his 11 Grammy awards, devoted worldwide audience and status among musicians everywhere testified to artistic strengths that went far beyond technique. He was a composer, bandleader and improviser whose solo career started late, after years as a sideman and session-player; but in the two decades after he made his leadership debut, he became the most emulated jazz saxophonist on the planet after John Coltrane.
Brecker was held in such awe by students, commentators and players alike that the thought of his exit will be hard for many to comprehend. A reserved, private and undemonstrative man, who made light of his talent – he was so indifferent to onstage histrionics that he would play the most high-energy solos with almost nothing visibly moving but his fingers – Brecker inspired enduring loyalties for his modesty as much as his influence. He also inspired confidence in the most demanding of artists that his presence would make even their best work sound better.
Brecker combined the striving energy, technical ambition and sophisticated harmonic sense of Coltrane – his first and biggest inspiration – with a soulful bluesiness that allowed him to drop easily into the earthiest of blues, rock or funk bands. In his prime, he could sustain an unaccompanied one-man show by sounding like several sax players, and even parts of a rhythm section, all at the same time. But if he could tingle the spine with Coltranesque split-note wails that took the tenor sax way above its regular range as well as transforming it into a chordal instrument, he could be tender with slow music, as his performance of Every Day I Thank You on guitarist Pat Metheny’s 80/81 album confirms.
Self-revelatory emotions were not perhaps his style, in the way they were Coltrane’s. But, playing in New York in the week following 9/11, Brecker told me: “I maybe felt in touch with the true purposes of music in a way I never had been before – as a hearing, transporting, unifying force.” He seemed to tune into both his inner voices and the wider possibilities of his art increasingly in later years.