Release date May 24th 2007
When Michael Brecker was recording "Pilgrimage" in August 2006 he knew that he would probably die of the leukaemia induced by the myelodysplastic syndrome he had been diagnosed with some years before. And indeed that has proved to be the case. With Michael Brecker's passing in January 2007, this posthumous release has the full import of the knowing last statement of a fine musician.
The band assembled for this final session is overwhelmingly talented for its purpose. At the core, Pat Metheny, with whom Michael Brecker had made four of his most complete jazz albums ("Tales Of The Hudson", "Nearness Of You: The Ballad Book", "Time Is Of The Essence" and the debut album "Michael Brecker") and with whom empathy and musical understanding are close to complete. And this is coupled with the two most gifted keyboard players active today who share the tracks (Herbie Hancock on "The Mean Time", "When Can I Kiss You Again?", "Cardinal Rule" and "Pilgrimage" and Brad Mehldau on "Five Months From Midnight", "Anagram", "Tumbleweed", "Half Moon Lane" and "Loose Threads"). The band is completed by the excellent John Patitucci (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). Both Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette had appeared on "Nearness Of You: The Ballad Book" and of course, Micahel Brecker had collaborated with Herbie Hancock on "The New Standard".
However, attention turns directly to the Pat Metheny / Brad Mehldau empathy in the light of "Metheny/Meldau" and "Quartet" and how this intersects with the longer established Michael Brecker / Pat Metheny understanding and the answer is that the three way empathy is outstanding. Meanwhile, Herbie Hancock offers a terser, more probing keyboard presence that makes a significant contrast, especially where he takes up Fender Rhodes again for a rare outing (as on the closing track "Pilgrimage").
As Michael Brecker compositions, these tracks show the breadth and understanding of the music that thirty years as a performer and composer in the company of great jazz musicians has gained him. His career as a sideman, as shown on his website, has been almost improbably broad. Credits in the pop world include work with Karen Carpenter, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, Barry Gibb, Elton John, Billy Joel, John Lennon, Joni Mitchel, Laura Nyro, Yoko Ono, Lou Reed, Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan, James Taylor and Frank Zappa amongst many others. Indeed, the first time many will have heard him would have been that tremendous sax solo on Mark Knopfler's "Brothers In Arms", a world wide hit. Yet that same sessionography also shows the real range of his work in jazz with credits for work with Dave Brubeck, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Eliane Elias, Al Foster, Grant Green, Don Grolnick, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorious, John Patitucci, and Horace Silver, amongst many others.
There is much great music on "Pilgrimage". Broadly speaking the tracks with Brad Mehldau are more lyrical, impressionisitic pieces where the three way interplay between sax, piano and guitar is at the centre of attention. There is real democracy at work here too with wide ranging contributions from all three players. Take for example the long Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny solos on "Five Months from Midnight"; if this is a statement about the end that is coming it is a transcendent journey not to be faced alone.
In contrast the Herbie Hancock informed pieces are cut nearer to the bone, with sparer piano lines often formed around blocked left hand chords and digging into an inventive but somewhat more traditional mainstream jazz tradition - from the upbeat opener "The Mean Time" or "The Cardinal Rule" to the jazz ballad format of "When Can I Kiss You Again? (addressed to Michael Brecker's children) or the closing title track where Michael Brecker's saxophone soars over Fender Rhodes, capturing perhaps a beautiful and poignant retrospective of the early days of fusion where Michael Brecker's musical journey had begun.
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