Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chuck Owens Jazz Surge: The Comet's Tail

Mama Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.4.10
Buy CD: The Comet's Tail

Jazz Surge is a dynamic 17-piece orchestra; Chuck Owens is its director, and also one of the five arrangers who contributed to this album, which presents eight compositions by legendary saxophonist/composer Michael Brecker.

All true students of jazz know about the Brecker brothers. Michael, the youngest, played reed instruments; his older brother, Randy, played trumpet and flugelhorn. Both performed with numerous jazz groups, but Michael had a major influence on the genre. He grew up when rock was on top, and his first job was with the jazz/rock band, Dreams, which included his brother.

Michael's style was influenced more by rock guitar, however, than R&B saxophone. Nobody else was such a key part of so many different styles; Michael played with backup groups for Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkle, Frank Zappa, Spiro Gyra and many others, and with just about every jazz unit in existence.

But Michael was admired even more for his composing, which was the key factor in the creation of this album. The University of South Florida's Center for Jazz launched an international competition seeking arrangements of Michael's compositions; more than 80 works from five countries were submitted.

“Peeps,” the initial track on this release, is the winner. All other tracks are arranged by musicians who were a key part of Michael's career. These tracks include “flag-wavers” and ballads, and are both complex and “simple”; the common threads are their beauty and the fact that they swing like crazy, no matter what the tempo.

The band is beautifully rehearsed, and the solo work is exemplary.

We lost Michael in 2007 Brecker, at the age of 57, from complications of leukemia (myelodysplastic syndrome). Fortunately, this legendary artist left a comprehensive discography, including this gem.

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