Michael Brecker

Pilgrimage

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Given the heartbreaking context in which this album was released -- this was the final recording by saxophonist Michael Brecker, who died of myelodysplastic syndrome and leukemia only a few months before its release -- there might be a certain temptation to cut it some slack for sentimental reasons. However, leniency is hardly needed. Leading a group comprised of jaw-dropping talents (pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Jack DeJohnette) and playing for the first time a program consisting entirely of original compositions, Brecker delivers an emotionally rich and startlingly powerful album of straight-ahead modern jazz that will stand as his musical epitaph and will effectively confound anyone who has ever been tempted to dismiss him as a mere jazz-pop fusioneer. It will also frustrate anyone looking for maudlin emotion or even any obvious product of existential angst; the only concession to sentiment here is on the title of a ballad, "When Can I Kiss You Again?," a quote from Brecker's teenage son during a period in his treatment when his family was not allowed to touch him. But even that track, with its unusual chord progression and sometimes rather arid solos, retains a core of tough-mindedness within the tenderness. Most of the rest of the program consists of uptempo and medium-tempo burners that swing with a powerful sense of urgency and life, and precious little foreshadowing of the tragedy that all involved knew was soon to come. This is a brilliant and inspiring album -- and would be whether or not it had anything to do with the death of one of the great figures in American jazz. This CD was nominated in 2007 for a Grammy award as Best Jazz Instrumental Album (Individual or Group), and Brecker's improvisation on "Anagram" was nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo.

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