Banner artwork by Dimitar TraychevFebruary 16, 2022
ARTIST “IMPRESSION” (REVIEW): MICHAEL BRECKER
If you would be forced to burn all your records, delete all your music from your devices … EXCEPT the music of JUST 1 artist – the only one you could keep listening to for life – who would “the one” be for you? For me it would be Michael Brecker.
I would not go as far as saying I listen to his music every day, but there isn’t a week passing by without having listened to him play several times.
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see are 3 artworks created by an acquaintance, the Bulgarian designer Dimitar Traychev: John Coltrane, Miles Davis and (you guessed it) Michael Brecker (article banner image).
Now … in this blog article I am not going to analyze Michael Brecker’s compositions and solos, no music theoretical explanations … none of that all. Why? Well, it would be like asking a plumber (me) explain how open heart surgery by a Master of Surgery (Michael Brecker) works. Besides that, I would not be really adding anything “new”, just Google “Michael Brecker analysis” and a whole bunch of Youtubes and articles will pop up.
In this blog article I am also not going to tell you who Michael Brecker was.
– First of all, I never had the honor to meet and speak with him in person, only had the great pleasure to hear him play live a couple of times. So, what do I really know, right?
– Secondly, there are others that have written books and articles way better then I could ever do.
One book in particular I’d like to mention, “ODE to a TENOR TITAN” by Bill Milowski.
David Sanborn’s testimonial is how I feel about Michael Brecker’s music and playing too.
An article I also enjoyed reading is “How Michael Brecker Reinvented the Concept of Jazz Hero” by Ted Gioia. And for general information you could also visit www.michaelbrecker.com or Wikipedia.
THE FIRST TIME …
The first time I ever hear Michael Brecker play, was not one of his brilliant albums or a live performances. Even though I started listening Jazz around my 12th year, I mostly listened to old Jazz Cats like Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, followed by a period I listened a lot to David Sanborn and Jay Beckenstein (Spyro Gyra). One day when visiting one of my buddies from the neighborhood I heard “Your Latest Trick” by Dire Straits (a Britisch Pop-Rock band I am still fan of):
On this track, Michael and Randy Brecker feature. Back then I had no idea who Michael Brecker was, my buddy couldn’t tell me either … this happened in the late 80s / early 90s, before we had internet at home, search engines or tools like “Shazam“.
Michael Brecker did a lot of “studio gigs” throughout his life, a solo feature here, participating in a brass section there (like with the Average White Band), he played/featured on hundreds of albums! This track “just” one of the many.
My father and grandfather who also loved listening to Jazz, did not listen anything in style past the 40s. They loved swing, but their love for Jazz ended pretty much with Bebop. So, they couldn’t tell me anything about Michael Brecker either. In the years after I continued listening to mainsteam Jazz, even started playing in a Big Band and formed a Jazz Quintet with some friends. We mostly played Jazz standards and listened to Jazz legends like Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Henderson, Horace Silver, et cetera.
You would expect that in those years I would finally had figure out who Michael Brecker was, but alas.
It wasn’t until I visited the North Sea Jazz Festival that I finally made the “connection”. Michael and his brother Randy played with The Brecker Brothers band, for me one of the musical highlights of the festival. It was the “Out of the Loop” tour of 1995 (the video on the right is from the same year / tour, but a registration from Japan).
I truly fell in love with Michael Brecker’s music and playing during my study time at the Constantijn Huygens Conservatory (nowadays Artez in Zwolle), The Netherlands, when I started transcribing some of his music.
His album from 1987 called “Michael Brecker” became instantly one of my all time favorite Jazz records, “The Cost of Living” hit straight into my soul and is one of my all time favorite Jazz ballads ever since.
WHY I LOVE HIS MUSIC / PLAYING …
When it comes to complete mastery of the instrument, in my opinion there isn’t nor was a more gifted tenor saxophonist then Michael Brecker. For many musicians their instrument is an extension of “the self”. I am pretty sure that for Michael Brecker his saxophones were “part of the self”, it completed him as human being, though his playing was “unhumanly” good … out of this world, so to say.
His timing, articulation, intonation, dynamics, energy … You simply can’t “miss” a note he played … Where some musicians might “mumble” their notes from time to time, or are searching for direction, there is no “fidgeting” going on when Michael Brecker plays, every note is just “spot on” and engorged with soul, spirit, passion as well. Every note has purpose, is part of a larger picture, a mesmerizing story he had to share. Nothing ever feels “out of place” or “odd” when you listen to him play, but at the same time never is or becomes predicable or cliché … rather the opposite.
His sound in ballads can have a “haunting quality” like no other. But just as easily he blows your socks off with some Funky stuff … or comes up with a blistering solo when flipping the “Beast Mode” switch. And it all sounds just like he’s having a “walk in the park”, just casually whistling, totally at ease. While some musicians seem to “lose” themselves shooting their energy around like lightning from thundercloud, Michael Brecker is like a “sphere” of pure contained radiating energy. Where John Coltrane (another one of my heros) would be like planet Mars (strong forceful raw energy), Michael Brecker would be the Sun (a life-force that enables all things to thrive and grow).
FAVORITE TRACKS …
Alright … enough with the superlatives, perhaps it would be the time for sharing some of my all time favorite recording of Michael Brecker. Naturally this is an almost impossible task, for he has participated on hundreds of albums, one of the most productive saxophonists in history. To preserve space I will not add “The Cost of Living” once again below, you can listen to that Jazz ballad once again if you scroll up. Over time some of these tracks might change … or I might add some more … enjoy listening!