February's CD mix of the month

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I am unable to attend tomorrow night's February CD Mix of the Month Club, since I'll be in Utah at my grandfather's memorial service. But I'm sending my mix, Tenor of the Times, along to the meeting in my absence. The disc is a tribute to Michael Brecker, my favorite saxophonist of the past quarter-century. (Sharp-eared listeners will realize that this disc follows the same program as my tribute in ShunnCast #37.)

Brecker was one of the most prolific and influential tenor saxophonists of the late 20th century. A consummate session player, he appeared on as many as a thousand pop, rock, funk, and jazz recordings, often together with his older brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker. He played with the likes of James Taylor, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Carole King, Todd Rundgren, Elton John, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Parliament, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Chic, and Frank Zappa, not to mention such jazz legends as Horace Silver, Charles Mingus, Herbie Mann, Chet Baker, Don Cherry, Dave Brubeck, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, and Jaco Pastorius.

His own groups included Dreams, Steps Ahead, and the popular Brecker Brothers, a jazz-funk outfit he and Randy led together. Besides innovating on the tenor, Mike helped pioneer the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), which he employed to great effect on Paul Simon's The Rhythm of the Saints. Beginning in 1987, he cut a successful string of solo albums with collaborators like Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, and Larry Goldings, emerging as one of the giants of the modern jazz scene. Along the way, he picked up eleven Grammys.

Mike was diagnosed with the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome in 2005, and though a global search for a stem cell donor turned up no exact matches, his plight prompted thousands to sign up with the International Bone Marrow Registry. He underwent an experimental partial matching stem cell transplant late that year, but not with the hoped-for results. On January 13, 2007, he died of complications from leukemia in New York City. He was 57.

Mike's playing was always exuberant, full of humor and joy. With tracks in his catalog like "Itsbynne Reel" and "Escher Sketch," I like to think he would have enjoyed the title of this mix. No single disc could possibly chart the breadth of his talent, but this small selection of his recordings is at least a place to begin. R.I.P.

(I chose the live version of "Hejira" to end the disc because of Mike's poignant solo, and the now-haunting way that Joni Mitchell alters one lyric to say, "Listen, strains of Michael Brecker coming through the snow and the pinewood trees," instead of "Benny Goodman" as she sings on the studio version.)

For more on Michael Brecker, see The Guardian and Last.fm.

(The story so far.)

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/366634.html ]


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William Shunn

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on February 12, 2007 10:07 AM.

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