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Michael Brecker, Time Is of the Essence (CD, 70:01); Verve 314 
547 844-2, 1999
Verve Records (GRP)
Phone: 212-424-1000
Cyberhome: www.vervemusicgroup.com

        There's no doubting Michael Brecker's status as a tenor saxophone 
giant. As a composer and a leader of bands, however, he still seems 
to be searching-on the right track, but searching. His work for 
Impulse in the late 80s was slick and a bit ordinary-remember the 
ill-fated EWI?-and his live group during that period, featuring 
fusion guitar god Mike Stern, tended to eclipse music with 
muscle-flexing. But the muscle-flexing earned Brecker a devoted 
following among chops-hungry fusionheads wandering the halls of 
Berklee. I should know, I was one of them. We regarded Brecker as the 
second coming of Coltrane and so on and so forth. We were wrong.
	After a hiatus of several years, Brecker released Tales 
from the Hudson in 1996. Good, not great. The all-star players 
sounded as though they had done a few too many studio sessions 
together. They did their job, but they didn't surprise. Meanwhile, 
Brecker had put together a killer live band with Joey Calderazzo on 
piano (from the muscle-flexing period), James Genus on bass, and Jeff 
"Tain" Watts on drums. The gigs were a knockout, and so was the 
group's 1998 studio effort, Two Blocks from the Edge. The 
record displayed the spark and dynamism of a working band-precisely 
what the previous disc lacked.
	Brecker's new release, Time Is of the Essence, doesn't 
quite rise to the level of its predecessor. The lineup has changed 
again. Pat Metheny, who appeared on Tales, is back in on 
guitar. Larry Goldings plays Hammond organ. And Tain remains behind 
the kit, although Elvin Jones and Bill Stewart make guest appearances 
on three tracks each. To the best of my knowledge, Metheny, Goldings, 
and Tain (and Elvin) had never worked together before, and that in 
itself is a treat.
	Five of the nine tracks are Brecker's. "Arc of the Pendulum" 
is a heavy-swinging 3/4 tailor-made for Elvin Jones. "Half Past Late" 
is a New Orleans-style groove similarly tailor-made for Bill Stewart. 
"The Morning of This Night," a ballad in four with some interspersed 
bars of three, features Metheny in top form. "Dr. Slate" is gritty 
organ-driven swing with across-the-bar-line triplet figures beginning 
each melodic phrase. And the closer, "Outrance," resembles "Miles' 
Mode" in tempo and feel. Appropriately, Elvin plays this one, backing 
Brecker on an extended sax/drum duo break that strongly recalls the 
sound of the Coltrane quartet. Goldings contributes "Sound Off," a 
fast minor-key tune, while Metheny weighs in with the Elvin-esque 
"Timeline" and the ballad "As I Am." Producer George Whitty pens 
"Renaissance Man," a tribute to Eddie Harris which showcases Bill 
Stewart at his funkiest.
	Metheny and Brecker play brilliantly; even their familiar 
licks and phrases acquire freshness against the backdrop of 
Goldings's organ. Some of Metheny's best work of the decade has been 
as a sideman, and this record is no exception. Goldings does a 
masterful job carrying half the rhythm section burden, laying the 
harmonic foundation, and playing consistently strong solos.
Time Is of the Essence is not an earth-shattering record, but 
like Two Blocks from the Edge, it suggests that Michael 
Brecker has the capacity to make earth-shattering records.
~David R. Adler

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