Pilgrimage

Michael Brecker

Pilgrimage SACD HUSA9095
  • CAT # HUCD3095-25

    1. The Mean Time 6:55
    2. Five Months From Midnight 7:40
    3. Anagram 10:09
    4. Tumbleweed 9:36
    5. When Can I Kiss You Again? 9:42
    6. Cardinal Rule 7:31
    7. Half Moon Lane 7:17
    8. Loose Threads 8:34
    9. Pilgrimage 10:02

Next to John Coltrane, Michael Brecker – a 13-time GRAMMY winner in a career that spans more than three decades – is unquestionably the most influential tenor player in the history of jazz. As a result of his stylistic and harmonic innovations, he is the most studied contemporary jazz musician in music schools throughout the world today. Sadly, after a two-and-a-half-year battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and leukemia, Brecker passed away on January 13, 2007.

While in the midst of his debilitating illness, however, Brecker persevered. His work in the studio at the time of his death includes some of the finest music he has ever recorded. Pilgrimage (HUSA 3095) being released as an SACD5.1 Surround Sound features the all-star lineup of pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, guitarist Pat Metheny, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist John Patitucci.

Pilgrimage, chronicles Brecker’s final journey – one in which the music itself served as a sustaining force. Those present in the studio recall moments when the rigors of recording were so physically taxing – nearly to the point of collapse – for the leader whose health was compromised. In the end, it was Brecker’s sheer will, and a dedication to completing the recording, that pushed him, his colleagues and the project as a whole across the finish line.

While the artist himself may be gone, the passion of life burns in the recording that survives him. “Mike just left us some of the greatest music of his career – and of his life,” says Metheny. “Mike’s efforts to get his final message out to all of us – which is really what it is, a message – will go down as one of the great codas in modern music history. What happened in the studio during those few days in August is impossible to describe. It’s one of the most amazing, powerful, unbelievable things that I – and all who were there – have ever experienced or will ever see.”

And yet, for all of the extraordinary moments that gave birth to Pilgrimage, this recording almost didn’t happen. “There was the only the briefest of intervals in which this recording was possible, and in the end, Mike created the possibility,” says Darryl Pitt, Brecker’s longtime friend and manager. “We didn’t know until the first day of rehearsal whether Mike would feel up to the task that lay before him – and we never knew what tomorrow would bring. Almost immediately following the sessions, Mike again became quite ill.”

As is often the case, the adversity working against the creator only makes the creation that much stronger and richer – and all the more sublime. Every one of the nine tracks composed by Brecker on Pilgrimage is a portrait of an artist at the peak of his creative powers. The album is the first in Brecker’s stellar discography which consists solely of his original compositions. Each tune is compelling in this 75-minute set, and there are moments within each that are absolutely transcendent.

Consider “Tumbleweed,” a midtempo track with an undercurrent of melodic and percussive urgency. The improvisational vamp at the end of the track – an uptempo, burning segment with a life of its own and an undeniable power – is likely to raise the hairs on the back of any listener’s head, just as it did for everyone on-hand when this singular musical moment occurred in the studio.

The title of the quiet and poignant “When Can I Kiss You Again?” comes from a question posed by Brecker’s teenage son, Sam, during a portion of one of Brecker’s hospital stays when physical contact with family and friends was prohibited. While Brecker blew kisses to his loved ones, his son kept hoping for a chance to be closer to his father.

“Loose Threads” first performed by Brecker in “Directions in Music,” his co-led venture with Hancock and Roy Hargrove glides along effortlessly in a playful counterpoint of melody and rhythm set up by Brecker, Hancock and DeJohnette, with Patitucci expertly holding down the groove.

The title track, which was the last track Brecker ever recorded, is the album’s final coda. The track is paradoxical in its tone and execution, with alternating shades of melancholy and optimism constantly vying for the upper hand. The resulting tug-of-war resolves itself in its majestic final measures.

The Pilgrimage sessions were unquestionably an inspiration to everyone present. During the recording, several musicians spoke of a spiritual dimension to the proceedings that tapped into something much more than just music.

“Everybody loves and respects Mike a lot,” said DeJohnette. “There’s a spirit of celebration that’s a part of everything we’re doing here. It’s like a cheering section. Everybody’s rooting everybody else on – not just musically but personally and spiritually.”


“Michael has gone up yet another notch with his writing and playing,” said Hancock, who has recorded and performed with Brecker since the ‘80s and appeared on one of Brecker’s biggest selling albums, Nearness of You (2001). “There’s always good news that comes with bad news, and that’s the good news – in spite of his condition, or maybe even because of it, he continues to climb mountains and move forward. That’s the best way to take a poison and turn it into medicine. He’s taken something that’s destructive and turned it into something extremely constructive.”

Indeed, Brecker’s sense of creative optimism and humanitarianism has touched the lives of people who never knew him. Despite being aware that the likelihood of finding a matching bone marrow (or blood stem cell) donor – his only hope for survival – was especially remote in his case, the usually reserved Brecker decided to go public when he realized the potential benefit to others in a similar predicament. Each year, approximately 9,000 people die in the U.S. alone while waiting for a matching donor to provide relief from diseases such as myeloma, leukemia, anemia and lymphoma. Bone marrow drives in Brecker’s name took place at jazz festivals throughout the world. To date, fifteen matching donors have been found for those in need as a result of testing at “Brecker” sponsored events.

“Michael has a very clear vision, so much so that it’s difficult to define exactly where the man ends and the music begins,” said Mehldau during the Pilgrimage sessions. “This music really just sounds like him harmonically, melodically and rhythmically. But it’s also sort of dense and urgent at the same time. In the end, I think it’s just one huge creative statement.”

Pilgrimage is a singular phenomenon in the annals of recorded music. It’s a consummate creative statement with a vision that speaks to us from a place we can’t comprehend. It’s an invitation to take the spiritual journey of an artist whose legacy will outlast us all.

Next to John Coltrane, Michael Brecker – a 13-time GRAMMY winner in a career that spans more than three decades – is unquestionably the most influential tenor player in the history of jazz. As a result of his stylistic and harmonic innovations, he is the most studied contemporary jazz musician in music schools throughout the world today. Sadly, after a two-and-a-half-year battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and leukemia, Brecker passed away on January 13, 2007.

While in the midst of his debilitating illness, however, Brecker persevered. His work in the studio at the time of his death includes some of the finest music he has ever recorded. Pilgrimage (HUCD 3095) features the all-star lineup of pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, guitarist Pat Metheny, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist John Patitucci.

Pilgrimage, chronicles Brecker’s final journey – one in which the music itself served as a sustaining force. Those present in the studio recall moments when the rigors of recording were so physically taxing – nearly to the point of collapse – for the leader whose health was compromised. In the end, it was Brecker’s sheer will, and a dedication to completing the recording, that pushed him, his colleagues and the project as a whole across the finish line.

While the artist himself may be gone, the passion of life burns in the recording that survives him. “Mike just left us some of the greatest music of his career – and of his life,” says Metheny. “Mike’s efforts to get his final message out to all of us – which is really what it is, a message – will go down as one of the great codas in modern music history. What happened in the studio during those few days in August is impossible to describe. It’s one of the most amazing, powerful, unbelievable things that I – and all who were there – have ever experienced or will ever see.”

And yet, for all of the extraordinary moments that gave birth to Pilgrimage, this recording almost didn’t happen. “There was the only the briefest of intervals in which this recording was possible, and in the end, Mike created the possibility,” says Darryl Pitt, Brecker’s longtime friend and manager. “We didn’t know until the first day of rehearsal whether Mike would feel up to the task that lay before him – and we never knew what tomorrow would bring. Almost immediately following the sessions, Mike again became quite ill.”

As is often the case, the adversity working against the creator only makes the creation that much stronger and richer – and all the more sublime. Every one of the nine tracks composed by Brecker on Pilgrimage is a portrait of an artist at the peak of his creative powers. The album is the first in Brecker’s stellar discography which consists solely of his original compositions. Each tune is compelling in this 75-minute set, and there are moments within each that are absolutely transcendent.

Consider “Tumbleweed,” a midtempo track with an undercurrent of melodic and percussive urgency. The improvisational vamp at the end of the track – an uptempo, burning segment with a life of its own and an undeniable power – is likely to raise the hairs on the back of any listener’s head, just as it did for everyone on-hand when this singular musical moment occurred in the studio.

The title of the quiet and poignant “When Can I Kiss You Again?” comes from a question posed by Brecker’s teenage son, Sam, during a portion of one of Brecker’s hospital stays when physical contact with family and friends was prohibited. While Brecker blew kisses to his loved ones, his son kept hoping for a chance to be closer to his father.

“Loose Threads” first performed by Brecker in “Directions in Music,” his co-led venture with Hancock and Roy Hargrove glides along effortlessly in a playful counterpoint of melody and rhythm set up by Brecker, Hancock and DeJohnette, with Patitucci expertly holding down the groove.

The title track, which was the last track Brecker ever recorded, is the album’s final coda. The track is paradoxical in its tone and execution, with alternating shades of melancholy and optimism constantly vying for the upper hand. The resulting tug-of-war resolves itself in its majestic final measures.

The Pilgrimage sessions were unquestionably an inspiration to everyone present. During the recording, several musicians spoke of a spiritual dimension to the proceedings that tapped into something much more than just music.

“Everybody loves and respects Mike a lot,” said DeJohnette. “There’s a spirit of celebration that’s a part of everything we’re doing here. It’s like a cheering section. Everybody’s rooting everybody else on – not just musically but personally and spiritually.”

“Michael has gone up yet another notch with his writing and playing,” said Hancock, who has recorded and performed with Brecker since the ‘80s and appeared on one of Brecker’s biggest selling albums, Nearness of You (2001). “There’s always good news that comes with bad news, and that’s the good news – in spite of his condition, or maybe even because of it, he continues to climb mountains and move forward. That’s the best way to take a poison and turn it into medicine. He’s taken something that’s destructive and turned it into something extremely constructive.”

Indeed, Brecker’s sense of creative optimism and humanitarianism has touched the lives of people who never knew him. Despite being aware that the likelihood of finding a matching bone marrow (or blood stem cell) donor – his only hope for survival – was especially remote in his case, the usually reserved Brecker decided to go public when he realized the potential benefit to others in a similar predicament. Each year, approximately 9,000 people die in the U.S. alone while waiting for a matching donor to provide relief from diseases such as myeloma, leukemia, anemia and lymphoma. Bone marrow drives in Brecker’s name took place at jazz festivals throughout the world. To date, fifteen matching donors have been found for those in need as a result of testing at “Brecker” sponsored events.

“Michael has a very clear vision, so much so that it’s difficult to define exactly where the man ends and the music begins,” said Mehldau during the Pilgrimage sessions. “This music really just sounds like him harmonically, melodically and rhythmically. But it’s also sort of dense and urgent at the same time. In the end, I think it’s just one huge creative statement.”

Pilgrimage is a singular phenomenon in the annals of recorded music. It’s a consummate creative statement with a vision that speaks to us from a place we can’t comprehend. It’s an invitation to take the spiritual journey of an artist whose legacy will outlast us all.

Find out more about Michael Brecker