Online since August 2002

Brecker's best outing yet

From the Winter 2003 issue.

Wide Angles
Wide Angles
By Michael Brecker Quindectet

Verve Records: 2003

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enor saxophonist Michael Brecker bumps up into the very top echelon of jazz artistry with "Wide Angles." Not that he was too far below that to begin with. He came to jazz fame several years back with the Brecker Brothers, a post-bop/hard bop outfit led by himself and his brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker. Good music there, but not terribly original. A real step up the ladder came with his effort on pianist McCoy Tyner's '95 CD, "Infinity." Tyner was, of course, the late John Coltrane's pianist during the saxophonist's immensely creative Impulse! Records year,; and Brecker was then, and now, obviously influenced by 'Trane.

Brecker has since put out a series of discs under his own leadership, all quite good, boppish stuff with a lot of drive and energy and hard blowing, but nothing I would say that rises up to a Five Star range. But "Wide Angles" soars there, and moves Brecker into the upscale jazz neighborhood of writing/ arranging/bandleading achievement, along with bassist Dave Holland and trumpeter Dave Douglas.

Brecker's unit here is a "Quindectet" – fifteen players for those who are counting. The mix of instruments isn't an everyday jazz thing. Oboe, English horn, bass clarinet, French horn, flute, trombone, trumpet, a string quartet (two violins, a viola and a cello), in front of a guitar/drums/bass/percussion rhythm section. And of course, Brecker out front with his brawny tenor sound.

I've never heard the saxophonist sounding so freewheelingly confident and relaxed, blowing his soul out with bold strokes of color over the swirling pastel backdrops. Something akin to a Gil Evans/John Coltrane set (that never happened, did it?). A sound that is at times very reminiscent of many of the "With Strings" outings. And then there's some funk, on "Jessamine" – and yes, the strings are, believe it or not, very amenable to a funk tune.

Brecker plays throughout with, alternately, fire and finesse, throaty hot growls and delicate cool runs, and always inspired improvisation. His best thus far; a top ten of the year CD. A disc that'll make me go back and listen to his earlier work, to see if perhaps my somewhat lukewarm assessment of it isn't perhaps a bit ungenerous or inaccurate.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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