JazzTimes, Oct. 2009

Michael Brecker was such a powerful and masterful tenor saxophonist that one does not think of him as a composer.  However, with the release of The Comet’s Tail, a set of eight Brecker compositions, one can make the case that he was almost as innovative in his writing as in his playing.

The project had its genesis while Brecker was still alive.  Chuck Owen, the professor of jazz studies at the University of South Florida and the artistic director of the USF Center for Jazz Composition, teamed up with Dave Stamps, the managing director of the center.  They organized the International Jazz Arranging Competition in Honor of Michael Brecker in 2006.  Fred Stride won the contest with his complex and colorful arrangement of “Peep”.  Other arrangements were commissioned from Vince Mendoza and Gil Goldstein to augment charts written by Stamps and Owen.  A series of concerts and recordings were planned and, while Brecker’s death in Jan. 2007 changed the initial mood of exhilaration, the music went on.

Chuck Owen’s Jazz Surge, a 17-piece ensemble that has appeared on his previous CDs, forms the core of the musicians heard on The Comet’s Tail.  Such guest soloists as trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarist Mike Stern, Dave Liebman on tenor and soprano, tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, violinist Rob Thomas, and drummers Danny Gottlieb and Adam Nussbaum make strong statements (Gottlieb is a regular member of the orchestra) and there are also passionate solost from tenor-saxophonist Jack Wilkins, guitarist LaRue Nickleson, pianist Per Danielsson and trombonist Tom Brantley.  While the individual solos are quite impressive, it is the ensemble playing and spirit of the full ensemble that really stands out. The riotous and joyous “Itsbynne Reel” is one of many standouts.  Needless to say, Michael Brecker would have loved this CD.

-Scott Yanow