Very sad news to start off 2007: saxophonist Michael Brecker passed away. About two years ago, he had been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which affects the blood and bone marrow. He died of leukemia today at 57 years old in a New York City hospital.
Over his career, the Philadelphia native performed and recorded with innumerable musicians in and outside the jazz world. No doubt, avid Brecker fans have a special place in their hearts (and their collections) for his earlier jazz-rock/funk/fusion projects -- Dreams, which he founded in the '70s, and Steps Ahead, which he joined in the '80s. And even the uninitiated may have heard of the legendary Brecker Brothers band from the '70s (they later reunited for a tour in the '90s). His career on record has found him with some wide-ranging talents, among them: Horace Silver (one of his earliest notable sideman gigs), Pat Metheny, James Taylor, McCoy Tyner, John Abercrombie, Paul Simon, Bob James, Mike Stern (Steps Ahead bandmate), Idris Muhammad, Steely Dan, Larry Coryell, Billy Cobham, Billy Joel and Herbie Hancock (Directions in Music bandmate, recently).
What else to say? A brief listen to nearly any Brecker track reveals much of why his fans adored him so. He had an incredibly hearty tenor sound, absolutely mind-bending technique, and, for me, his strong, personal phrasing was another standout trait. I saw him perform only once (in Philadelphia with his quartet), and it was as though the songs were being hammered into new shapes and directions with each phrase -- such intution and intelligence. He had not only an incredible command of the saxophone but tremendous authority over his music in general.
Though his death was sudden, he did manage to record his final album two weeks before his passing. With about a dozen albums to his own name and countless sideman credits over the thirty-plus years of his career, Brecker's discography is vaster than most, so we're not lacking in material to remember him by. And yet, he left us too soon -- with so many appreciative, awestruck fans hanging on every powerful, venturesome and vigorous phrase.
Do the Math (the Bad Plus)
Intervals (Dave Liebman)
The Jazz Clinic
Orgy in Rhythm
Rifftides (Randy Sandke remembers Brecker)
Michael Brecker: "Delta City Blues"
Michael Brecker: "Madame Toulouse"
The Brecker Brothers: "Some Skunk Funk"
Steps Ahead: "Trains"
Some of my favorite albums of Brecker as a leader...:
Tales From the Hudson
Time Is of the Essence
...and just a few as a sideman:
Moncef Genoud: Aqua
Don Grolnick: Medianoche
Horace Silver: In Pursuit of the 27th Man
McCoy Tyner: Infinity
Find some more!