Jazz lost a major figure this past winter with the death of tenor-sax giant Michael Brecker, who died of a blood-marrow disorder. Yet as his health deteriorated last year, he still found the strength to record this album, which also features a “dream team” of instrumentalists – guitarist Pat Metheny, pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The resulting album is contemporary “straight-ahead” jazz, yet with a few novel twists.
The opener, “The Mean Time,” is a fast, melodic romp with hot solos tossed around by each player. One great surprise is that Metheny isn’t just a “fusion” guitarist, but can also wail on a straight jazz tune – his bop chops are impressive. Then there’s “Tumbleweed,” a mid-tempo tune with a loping groove and quirky melody. The cool thing is Metheny injecting his infamous guitar-synthesizer into a traditional acoustic-jazz format, and it sounds terrific. Many have a love/hate relationship with his synth tone, but here, Pat proves it’s a valid jazz instrument.
On the other hand, the ensemble could turn around and conjure up the beautiful, old-school ballad, “When Can I Kiss You Again.” Here, Metheny goes the classic route, turning in a perfect “jazzbox” solo that’s melodic, rhythmically interesting and very emotive. And John Patitucci gets a chance to shine on “Cardinal Rule” with a sterling standup-bass solo.
No doubt, Pilgrimage will earn a Grammy or three, both because of Brecker’s contribution to the jazz world, as well as for the merits of this stunning album alone. And come this fall, it’s surely going be the “Jazz Album of the Year” in many polls. Brecker’s last musical testament is just that good.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.