There has been no shortage of tributes paid to Michael Brecker since the great saxophonist’s untimely death in January 2007. But the vast majority of those have concentrated, as did the bulk of the accolades paid him during his life, on the power and influence of his playing. For this homage, Florida bandleader/arranger Chuck Owen decided to focus instead on Brecker’s undersung prowess as a composer.
The Comet’s Tail thus ends up as a powerful argument in favor of more frequent plumbing of the Brecker book. The eight well-chosen selections, half orchestrated by Owen, are performed with a spirit and vigor worthy of the honoree by Owen’s inventive big band, The Jazz Surge.
The album – which grew out of a project sponsored by the University of South Florida Center for Jazz Composition – kicks off with a muscular, breakneck arrangement of “Peep” by Vancouver’s Fred Stride. Dave Stamps offers a shimmering take on “Sumo” the closest approximation of Brecker’s penchant for pop-jazz crossovers. No strangers to Brecker’s oeuvre, arrangers Vince Mendoza and Gil Goldstein contribute a bustling “Slings and Arrows” and a driving “The Mean Time” respectively.
While the core band is excellent throughout, they’re embellished by a number of the late saxophonist’s closest friends. “Peep” features the first of two appearances by trumpeter Randy Brecker, ever ready to tip the hat to his brother. He emerges again with a heart-wrenching run through Owen’s rapturous setting of “How Long ‘Til the Sun,“ rendered with the bold luster of an island sunset. The slinky “Take a Walk” is a virtual convention of Brecker collaborators, featuring a duel between both of his Saxophone Summit bandmates, Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, along with Steps Ahead compatriot Mike Mainieri on vibes. Mike Stern is on hand for two cuts, as is Rob Thomas, who enlivens the Celtic funk celebration “Itsbynne Reel.”