, Aug. 2009

When Michael Brecker passed in 2007, he was participating in an arranging competition with The University Of South Florida’s Center For Jazz Composition, focusing on his music. Unfortunately, complications from leukemia took Brecker before the project was completed, but the results have been released as a memorial to his legacy.

Chuck Owen, who is the Director of the USF CJC leads his 17 piece band Jazz Surge through eight classic Brecker compositions on The Comet’s Tail. He also arranged four of them.

The winner of the competition, Fred Stride arranged the classic “Peep,” and it is the lead cut on the CD. Brother Randy Brecker blows some rollicking trumpet here, and guitarist extraordinaire Mike Stern is also featured.

Randy also appears on “How Long ‘Til The Sun,” playing flugelhorn. This great ballad also contains a lovely piano solo by Per Danielson and some haunting violin from Rob Thomas.

Thomas’ violin gets a workout on the punning “Itsbynne Reel,” which is another latter period Michael Brecker track. On this cut, John Wilkins performs admirably in the Brecker role, playing tenor sax.

Brecker’s old friend from the great 1980’s era Steps Ahead band, Mike Mainieri also makes an appearance, on the song “Take A Walk.” This is the longest track on the record at over 12 minutes, and Chuck Owen’s arrangement really allows the musicians room to explore.

“Take A Walk” was originally released on the Paradox LP, which came out when the band were still known as just Steps. The walking bass line used throughout the piece is a perfect context for Mainieri’s vibraphone solos. The dual sax play of tenor Joe Lovano and soprano Dave Liebman is a marvel at times.

Capping things off is the bittersweet “Everything Happens When You’re Gone,” which starts off as a nice ballad, and builds into a rousing celebration of the great life Michael Brecker led.

The Comet’s Tail is an adventurous and rousing send off for a man who left the jazz world much too early. Michael Brecker will be missed.

-Greg Barbrick