Saxophonist Michael Brecker ranks among jazz’s most distinctive and authoritative improvisers. His solos are immediately identifiable, thoughtful, and memorable. Among his acclaimed releases is the ’96 blockbuster Tales From the Hudson (GRP/Impulse), which won two Grammy awards.
Yet after two decades of recording and performing, Brecker says his newest CD, Two Blocks From the Edge (GRP/Impulse), is the first session in his career that was recorded exactly the way he envisioned from beginning to end.
“In the past, it’s always been a situation where the band I was working with before we went into the studio hadn’t really solved some of the problems involved in the music we ended up recording,” Brecker says. “It would always end up sounding a lot better after we’d been on the road than it did when we were in the studio. But this time I did things in reverse; we worked out the songs on the road before we recorded, and it seemed to work out a lot better. It’s actually the way I’ve always preferred to record, but it just happened that this time we did it that way.”
The CD is an impressive one for Brecker and his band, who make their second Nashville appearance this Thursday at Gibson’s Caffè Milano. Pianist Joey Calderazzo, drummer Jeff Watts, percussionist Don Alias, and bassist James Genus (who has since been replaced by John Patitucci) had meshed so well by the time they made it to the studio that most songs on Two Blocks From the Edge are first takes. Fueled by Brecker’s explosive, furious solos, the selections benefit just as much from the inspiring percussive energy of Watts and his rhythm-section comrades.
The album’s highlight is perhaps the title cut, which Brecker dedicated to a friend, the late composer/instrumentalist Don Grolnick. It’s both an expressive tribute and a showcase for lengthy choruses of driving, huge-toned solos that never become excessive or repetitive.
Both Michael and his trumpeter brother Randy grew up in a musical environment, influenced by their father, who was a semi-professional pianist and attorney in their hometown of Philadelphia. The brothers attended music camps and performed gigs in their teens, making their first mark as members of the jazz-rock band Dreams in the late ’60s. Dreams’ two albums were erratic, due mainly to constant personnel changes, but the interplay between Michael’s energetic tenor and Randy’s frenetic trumpet were duly noted by New York critics at the time.
Since his Dreams debut, Michael Brecker has never been content to stick with one style. He has played with several funk, pop, and rock stars, including Parliament, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon, and has worked alongside such jazz icons as Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, Jack DeJohnette, and Chick Corea. But Brecker, among jazz’s more understated stars, downplays his versatility.
“I’ve enjoyed working in all these contexts,” he says. “I don’t like to stand still or play in the same situation all the time. I’ve been very fortunate to work with such great musicians and people, and be able to add something to their work.”
The saxophonist refuses to be drawn into any discussions about whether conditions for jazz musicians have improved in the ’90s. “It’s not something that I really think about a lot or dwell on; I’m just glad to still be able to play and reach an audience. I do think that recording never gets any easier, no matter how much you do it. But questions about climate or condition aren’t things that I spend much time thinking about or evaluating; I just continue to play and work.”
At 49, Michael Brecker is showing no signs of decline or stagnation. Indeed, his playing has gotten stronger and more forceful over the years, and Two Blocks From The Edge is dynamic evidence of his continued excellence. Fans who enjoy challenging and original music that’s in the mainstreamyet occasionally goes beyond itshouldn’t miss Brecker and his band.
Michael Brecker plays 7:30 and 10 p.m. Sept. 10 at Gibson’s Caffé Milano. Call 255-0073 for reservations.
Shades of blue
Soul/blues vocalist E.C. Scott superbly blends sophisticated jazz-tinged numbers with hard-edged, wailing tunes and confessional sagas. Her second release, Hard Act to Follow (Blind Pig), has lately attracted lots of attention on the blues circuit; the album reflects Scott’s live act, which incorporates elements from ’90s urban contemporary and ’60s down-home country and soul.
Scott has become known for her stylistic range, but she has always been a diverse vocalist, due to the fact that early in her career, she was unsure of what she wanted to sing. She started off in the ’60s performing gospel, then switched to jazz. Later came R&B tours, in which she opened for such greats as Lou Rawls and Patti LaBelle.
These gigs not only taught Scott about stage presence and delivery, they helped her learn a sense of humorwhich was necessary to downplay taunts and insults from drunks and impatient fans anxious to see the headliner. Her humorous side surfaces on “If You’re a Good Woman,” which adeptly juggles contemporary insights with irony and deadpan innuendo. The same on-the-edge sensibility permeates other Scott compositions such as “Lyin’ and Cheatin’ ” and “Don’t Touch Me.” Other numbers, particularly “Tell Me About It” and “Steppin’ Out on a Saturday Night,” are upbeat and vigorous, punctuated by Scott’s warm, exuberant delivery and her soulful shouts.
There’s also a touch of mystery in Scott’s background: She refuses to divulge details about her age, and the only thing she’ll say about her past is that she’s done her share of chitlin circuit revues and Delta honky-tonks.
The production on Hard Act to Follow has a modern edge, but Scott’s songs and vocal style are old-fashioned blues and soul. Local audiences should be in for a treat when she performs this coming Monday night at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar.
For more info about E.C. Scott’s upcoming date, call 242-5837.
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