Tales from the Hudson (Impulse)
Michael Brecker

By Bob Bahr

After listening to a disc like this one, you can understand why people get the notion that jazz is dead. This safe, polished, supremely executed Michael Brecker album could have been released in 1993, 1990 or even 1987 . . . I take that back. In 1987, Brecker was experimenting with the EWI, an electronic wind instrument that took his modern bebop and injected some innovative spirit. On Tales from the Hudson, we have "Cabin Fever," for instance, a painfully straight-ahead bebop song that could be a museum piece if it weren't so '90s hot.

The performances are beyond reproach; Brecker asked Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Joey Calderazzo to sign on for the project, and they play flawlessly. Drummer DeJohnette single-handedly makes "Cabin Fever" almost worth a listen. Almost.

Three cuts stand out. "Song for Bilbao" can be pegged as a Metheny composition from the first couple of chords, minutes before his trademark synth-guitar sound enters the picture. It's a fine, catchy Metheny song, however, and McCoy Tyner's piano contribution and Don Alias' percussion work spice it up a bit. Brecker seems superfluous here, especially when his tenor saxophone plays along on the head of the tune with Metheny's guitar.

"African Skies" is another cut featuring guest musicians Tyner and Alias, and it bubbles up under a polyrhythmic flame for eight minutes of engaging jazz. And finally, sounding like a composition from Brecker's past, "Beau Rivage" stretches the bebop restraints with a chord progression that is irregular but makes sense, like a carefully picked path on stones across a creek. Elsewhere is bebop, bluesy swing, and other yawn-provokers. Jazz could indeed die in the hands of cul-de-sac pavers such as Brecker.