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The Friday Morning Listen: Michael Brecker – Tales from the Hudson

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Back in the 70's, musician encounters with drug overdoses gave birth to the addled rock star stereotype. People joked about a future when rock stars would begin to die of natural causes.

Well sure, it was all laughs until it actually started to happen. There's something quite unsettling in the realization that these supposed anchors of our lives are in fact impermanent. It's an uncomfortable reminder of our own mortality.

Michael Brecker was not a rock star, but I'd be willing to bet that you've heard him play. His sax appeared on a stunning number of records that span the worlds of jazz (including the fusion/funk of the Brecker Brothers, with brother Randy), pop, folk, and rock. A complete credits list can be seen at Brecker's AllMusic page. Here's a (very) condensed list: Aerosmith (Get Your Wings), James Taylor (One Man Dog), John Lennon (Mind Games), Todd Rundgren (Something/Anything?), The Average White Band (AWB), Blue Oyster Cult (Agents Of Fortune), Parliament (Mothership Connection), Frank Zappa (Zappa in New York), Paul Simon (One Trick Pony), Mark Knopfler (Local Hero), Yoko Ono (Seasons Of Glass), Joni Mitchell (Shadows and Light), Pat Metheny (80/81), Bill Chinnock (Badlands), Bruce Springsteen (Born To Run).

The last handful of entries illustrates how an artist can draw a "thread of influence" through a long segment of what we think of as "our" music. Most folks reading this are probably not familiar with the name Bill Chinnock. Chinnock was part of the Asbury Park gang, playing with a group that went on to become the E-Street Band. He was also a musical hero of mine back in the my college days. Kind of interesting to me that Michael Brecker played on Chinnock's Badlands as well as Springsteen's Born To Run.

Brecker played in Joni Mitchell's stellar touring band that was documented on Shadows and Light. What a band that was with Pat Metheny on guitar, Lyle Mays on keys, Jaco Pastorious on bass and Don Elias on percussion. The lineup on Tales from the Hudson is equally amazing — Metheny, Jack DeJohnette, Joey Calderazzo, Dave Holland and on two tracks: McCoy Tyner and Don Alias. My mind's ear can draw a line from my listening past all the way through to the present while listening to the smoldering version of Metheny's "Song For Bilbao" (on which Tyner and Alias play). Sure, it's a little sad that that thread of memory now contains death…but that does nothing to diminish this music.

Michael Brecker, 1949-2007.

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About Mark Saleski

  • WillF

    Michael Brecker always sounded good, no matter the style. He was the kind of artist that you could pick out from the rest when you heard him because he was always fresh and full of personality. His improvised solos are the kind you want to hear over and over again until you are able to play them, if only mentally, with him. He brought jazz sophistication to pop, and made fusion a serious art form. I’ll miss him for sure.

  • Nick

    Michael Brecker blurred that line between commercial and artistic – between jazz and pop. Had he been content at remaining a session star for everyone from AWB to Zappa his contribution would have been astounding, but with the continuation of the Brecker Brothers’ line of musical development into ‘Tales from the Hudson’ and his amazing Quindectet’s ‘Wide Angles’ (what a big band in this day and age?) Michael Brecker provided us all with depth, humour, fun and thought throughout his music.

  • “southside maryanne”

    Rest in peace Bill.

  • Karl Rothko

    My first introduction to Michael Brecker was in listening to him play on Steve Kahns’ 1977 album “The Blue Man” on a track called “Eye Over Autumn (For Folon)”,and being absolutely astonished that a then 28yr old Brecker could play like that…with such an immaculate sense of space,time, rythm, musical vocab,and raw power.
    Since then,cd’s like Straphanging (The Brecker Bros),Wide Angles,Tales From the Hudson,and Time is of the Essence have been added to my collection and widened my Michael Brecker listening experience.
    Oh yes,there’s also his playing on Metheny’s 80/81,or John McLaughlin’s album The Promise,some very challenging listening(and playing) there,and I recommend people check it out if they get a chance.
    Brecker was a player like no other.
    I am very sadened at Breckers’ passing,and his death is a great loss to the jazz world.
    I have no doubt he’s rockin’ on somewhere “up there”