After what seems like a long history of supporting musicianship, Michael Brecker can do no wrong in turning out another superb CD "Nearness of You: The Ballad Book, released June 19, 2000 on the Verve label. Accolades keep pouring in, but this doesn't stop the talented Mr. Brecker from gearing up for a dream team national tour beginning September 19, 2001 with Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, John Pattitucci and Brian Blade. The six-week tour begins in San Cruz, California and will tribute Miles and Coltrane, the 75th Anniversary, "Revisiting some of their music in a futuristic way," said Brecker.
The seven-time Grammy Award Winner's first all-ballad CD also marks Pat Metheny's debut as a producer for another artist. It is especially comforting to see the stunning ensemble of jazz giants joining him for this outstanding project, as they did on his debut album as a leader, "Michael Brecker" Impulse (1986).
Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette can hardly be called sidemen, each lending their own special state-of-the-art creativity to such unfailing selections as a Gil Evans inspired "My Ship," from the "Miles Ahead" arrangement, Herbie's "Chan's Song," Flavio Ventuini's "Nascente," Joe Zawinul's "Midnight Mood," (with an arrangement partially based on guitarist Wes Montgomery's version), Irving Berlin's "Always," two from Metheny, "Sometimes" and "Seven Days" and two more by Brecker, "Incandescence" and "I Can See Your Dreams." A surprise appearance by James Taylor, who used Brecker for the sax solo thirty years ago on "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," also sings this and "The Nearness of You," completing the book.
"Pat and I brainstormed and put together a list of potential songs that we thought would be good for everyone," said Brecker. "It's always a pleasure playing with them. They are four of my favorite musicians in the world and it made perfect sense for me to use them for this record. They have a great ability for the ballad," he complimented.
Marvelously arranged and performed, from your first listening you will realize there is more going on than just another ballad record by a notable leader. "Pat did a wonderful job in producing and playing, said Brecker. "It's a modern ballad book and for me it was a more embellished performance. I looked for turns off the beaten path. It was just an idea of beautiful songs with a tremendous amount of information to them," he continued. "If you listen to them closely, you can find interesting musical conversation and information happening. At the same time, they are quite ambient listened to at a distance and grooved to."
What a great idea for worldwide Michael Brecker fans. "Well the idea obviously is not an original idea," said Brecker. "It's been suggested to me by various musicians for awhile now. Charlie Haden suggested it to me some time ago, but I sort of filed it away. Later when Verve suggested it again, I felt like the timing was right and so, I thought of how I would do it."
Timing seems to be everything to Michael Brecker and I think you might agree he has perfected the art. After hundreds and hundreds of performances with a veritable who's who of pop and jazz giants, Brecker has hit his stride. "I'm glad I started late," he said. "Long before I recorded as a leader, I had already developed a strong concept of what I wanted to do. It just sort of unfolded that way. I didn't have the inclination to do it before then. I never had an overwhelming desire to record as a leader until Impulse Records approached me. It just felt right at that time," he recalled.
When you read the performance dates for recordings that Brecker has done since the seventies, you wonder where he gets all his energy. Michael recently returned from an outstanding performance at this year's North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague, Netherlands (July 2001), where he and his brother, Randy-trumpet, Dave Kikoski-piano, Peter Washington-bass and Carl Allen-drums, reinvented their acoustic Brecker Brothers repertoire to the delight of thousands of cheering fans.
"People in Europe seem to be more interested in jazz," he said. "They take it more seriously. Also, jazz is played more on TV and radio in Europe and that increases the exposure. Europeans have a great sense of culture that goes back hundreds of years, so I suppose that is all part of it," he reasoned. "As a musician, you can take more chances in Europe improvisationally Jazz is American, but it is universally played," he continued. "I don't know, it's a grass is greener effect, I suppose."
One thing is certain, Michael Brecker is one of the highest requested performers for venues throughout the world. He has really come into his own as a musical leader, writer and composer. When I asked Michael about how he gets his ideas for new compositions he replied. "Sometimes it's by lightning but more often it is just sitting at the piano. It hasn't been that hard the last few years I enjoy writing more than I used to, so I sit at the piano and write a lot now," he said.
"Reinventing?" Michael repeated when I ask him about playing the same songs in a different way. "Always! It's a continual process that is a necessity. That's what makes playing jazz fun," said Brecker.
On a personal note, in his free time Michael Brecker enjoys reading, movie going, basketball, working out at the gym and "hanging with my family," he said, which includes two musical children ages 12 and 8. He also has a new "under construction" website that he jokingly said he hopes will be finished by the year 2005! In the meantime, readers may go to Verve or Herbie Hancock's website to obtain additional information about the Miles/Coltrane Anniversary tour schedule. And, if you don't have Brecker's Ballad Book CD by now, rush out and buy it. You won't be disappointed!
JazzReview.com would like to thank Michael Brecker and Patrick Paris, Vice President, The Lippin Group/NY for this personal interview.