What better way to commemorate Michael Brecker than with a CD by a hard-driving big band playing his compositions. Brecker, the great tenor sax player died in 2007. His music and talent will be long remembered, and Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge have put together a wonderful selection of arrangements, starring some of today’s best of players.
Owen, University of South Florida jazz composition professor, conceived this project in conjunction with USF. Owen says that the goal was re-envisioning Brecker’s work through the eyes of various arrangers, including Brecker’s frequent collaborators Gil Goldstein and Vince Mendoza. Owen, himself, was a major contributor, along with Vancouver composer Fred Stride.
For its second recording, joining the talented 17-piece Surge orchestra on various numbers are special guests Randy Brecker, trumpet, Mike Mainieri, vibes, Mike Stern, guitar, Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, saxes. Little known violinist Rob Thomas is also a big presence. The numbers are long, about 10 minutes each, giving everyone a chance stretch out on solos. Most had shared the bandstand on numerous occasions with Michael Brecker.
Fittingly, the CD starts off with brother Randy Brecker soloing on “Peep,” a sparkling arrangement by Stride. The sharp precision of the band is immediately apparent.
Owen’s four arrangements are very impressive, beginning with his take on the popular “Itsbynne Reel,” a surprising delight, formed from a traditional Irish reel. Thomas’ violin is integral from the start as the piece moves toward a swirling climax—Thelonious Monk meets River Dance. Band members Jack Wilkins on tenor sax and LaRue Nicholson on guitar contribute wild solos in the free-for-all finale.
Thomas’ violin again sets the tone for Owen’s adaption of “How Long ’til the Sun,” a soft mellow ballad, with Randy Brecker’s lyrical trumpet and the band’s layered brass shadings adding much to the indigo mood.
A real standout is Owen’s quirky version of “Take A Walk.” This begins with an animated musical conversation between saxes, Lovano’s tenor and Liebman’s soprano. The title can be taken as an invitation or a put-down. About one-third in, Manieri’s vibes joins the group. All happily converse musically until they seem to get perturbed, making for a hotly dissonant finish. This is high octane writing.
In Owen’s take on “Everything Happens When You’re Gone,” Lovano, after a soulful start, really gets “amped” on tenor. On this, the band projects a big brassy Stan Kenton sound. And, again, Thomas takes a hard-sawing solo.
The Comet’s Tail truly captures Michael Brecker’s genius, But, as well, it should be a launching pad, lifting recognition for the Surge band.