There was a time when the name Michael Brecker instantly conjured up the image ofthe ultimate musical equivalent of the hired gun. a super-proficient and seemingly infinitely adaptable saxophonist who could slide with ease into any record date you cared to name. By his own account. Brecker has figured on well over 400 records. including sessions on Bruce Springsteen‘s Born to Run. John Lennon's Mind Games (‘I don't think he particularly liked jazz. but he had such a great sense of humour that hanging out with him was great fun’). Lou Reed's Berlin. Frank Sinatra’s LA Is My Lady. several Billy Joel albums. and Frank Zappa‘s Live in New York.
That is not the standard jazz
holocaust of sound
12 The List 16— 29 June 1989
discography. but then again. Brecker is not the standard jazz player. The saxophonist first stood out in the ground-breaking jazz-rock outfit Dreams (with brother Randy on trumpet) in the late sixties. and has been associated with the fusion style. in one way or another. ever since. The most notable expressions of that came in the band he shared with his brother. logically named The Brecker Brothers (remember the solid slab of urban funk [Susi River. a big singles hit over here in the late seventies‘.’ ). and with the rather more jazz-influenced Steps Ahead. a massively popular. high-quality outfit which also featured guitarist Mike Stern. who joins him for the (ilasgow concert. and vibist Mike Mainieri.
At the same time. that prodigious discography also records the names of leaders like ('harles Mingus. Pat Metheny. John Abercrombie. and (‘hick (‘orea. Brecker has always played jazz alongside his fusion and rock work. an interest which stretches all the way back to his youth in Philadelphia.
‘I used to jam a lot with a drummer named Eric (iravatt. who went on to join Weather Report. and he turned
me on to the (‘oltrane Quartet. lle
Saxophone giant Michael Brecker has played with everyone from Frank Sinatra Bruce Springsteen. but
has finally found to.
his voic ‘ as a jazzman. KENNY MA’I’HIESON looks at a remarkable career.
taught me a lot about playing — in fact. I decided at one point that l was going to be a drummer myself. and seriously studied it. but l gave up on that idea when I heard Billy ('obham play with the .‘vfahavishnu ()rchestra. l realised then that I had better stick to saxophone. 1 studied tenor with a guy called Vince 'l‘rombetta. and otherwise just picked up what I could around Philly. I heard Sonny Fortune a lot. Later. when I moved to New York. the whole late sixties loft scene was still happening. and I would try to learn as much as I could from players like Dave l.iebman and Steve (irossmanf
Sticking to saXophone proved to be a pretty good idea. Brecker developed one of the fullest. most beautiful tenor saxophone sounds in contemporary music. but it was only two years ago that he finally felt confident enough within himself to step out from the collaborative position of the previous twenty years and assume the mantle of leader on a genuine jazz session. appropriately enough for the historic Impulse label. home of many of his greatest heroes. including (‘oltrane himself.
Simply called Mic/rue] Brecker. the album featured a superb contemporary jazz group. with pianist Kenny Kirkland. guitarist Pat Metheny. bassman (‘harlie lladen and drummerJack l)e.lohnette. and demonstrated Brecker's awesome command of his instrument. “is years working in slick fusion outfits have left an ineradicable gloss on his sound. but it was allied to a genuine jazz feeling. an apparent emotional opening-up not always evident in his work.
‘I think that was because I felt more in touch with myselfemotionally at that time. but you need to be with the right musicians to bring that out in a musical way. Playing with musicians like that. there are times when the music almost seems to take on a life of its own. almost as if you are not really playing at all. It is a very exhilarating experience. I wanted a situation where there was a lot of
space. where it is open. and the rhythmic and harmonic possibilities are infinite.‘
liarlier this year. Brecker released his second album for the label. Don't Try This .'l( Home. couched in a similiar modern idiom. albeit covering a wide-range of musical influences. and. as always. performed with the utmost skill and conviction. ()n the cover. Brecker apparently balances his tenor saxophone by the lip of its bell on one finger. an amusing visual conceit which nonetheless suggests the apparently effortless ease with which he finds his way around the horn.
ln recent years. he has experimented with electronic wind instruments. initially by miking his
saxophone for the holocaust of sound on the Brecker Bothers live classic Heavy Metal Be-Bup. but admits that 'it never felt right to me after spending all those years of working on a good sax'ophone sound. I always felt it cheapened the sound to put a box on it.‘
The answer arrived in the shape of designer Nyle Steiner's prototype Steinerphone. an electronic wind instrument subsequently taken up for commercial distribution by Akai. 'l'hese have now become increasingly common (Al‘ommy Smith. an avowed Brecker fan. plays the Yamaha version of the instrument ). but Brecker was among the very first to make performance use of them.
'l‘he ( ilasgow Concert will be Scotland’s first chance to hear Brecker in his new-found role as a jazz leader. one that he is clearly enjoying very much indeed. For years the consummate musician's musician ~ albeit with a broad public appeal across a wide spectrum of often very commercial music - the saxophonist is discovering that it is never too late to find your own voice in the music. so long as it is in there to come out.
.llie/iue/ Brecker Quintet. The 'I'rumwuy, .iUJtme.