Jazziz, Aug. 2009

On August 11, MAMA Records released Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge’s The Comet’s Tail: Playing the Compositions of Michael Brecker. Under the direction of Owen, the disc features the eminently swinging 17-piece Jazz Surge alongside longtime Brecker collaborators such as Joe Lovano, Mike Stern, Mike Mainieri, Dave Liebman, Adam Nussbaum, Danny Gottlieb, Rob Thomas and Brecker’s brother Randy.

The Comet’s Tail is the first release emanating from the University of South Florida’s Center for Jazz Composition and the culmination of a project begun in 2006. Seeking to focus attention on an established composer’s body of work while, at the same time, stimulating new works, the CJC launched an International Jazz Arranging Competition in honor of Brecker. Over 80 works from five countries were submitted. Ultimately, British Columbia resident Fred Stride’s rollicking score of “Peep,” which opens The Comet’s Tail, was selected as the winning entry. In the meantime, the CJC commissioned fresh arrangements of Brecker compositions from the saxophonist’s frequent behind-the-scenes collaborators Gil Goldstein and Vince Mendoza. Each selected a song of his choosing with Mendoza going with “Slings and Arrows” and Goldstein opting for “The Mean Time,” a tune from Pilgrimage, Brecker’s final recording.

These works, along with arrangements by former CJC Managing Director Dave Stamps and Owen, the organization’s present director, were to be premiered in a series of concerts throughout central Florida in April 2007. Sadly, Brecker passed away in January of that year, casting a somber mood over the project. After careful assessment, everyone agreed that the project should continue and that it would serve as a poignant tribute and wonderful celebration of the late saxophonist and his work.

After three April concerts premiers and two recording sessions, the Jazz Surge reprised the material (with two new charts added) at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday in October 2007. The final recording sessions soon followed.

The result of so much intensive and loving labor is a fine, lively record, with inspired playing all around. The eight selections span some 25 years and are culled from seven different Brecker recordings. As tributes go, this one’s a memorable gem.