Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Charged Particles Aren’t Stopping the Music

With help from saxophonist Tod Dickow, the San Francisco trio is paying its respects to the late Michael Brecker

Charged Particles with Tod Dickow
Left to right: Murray Low, Tod Dickow, Aaron Germain, and Jon Krosnick (photo: Pat Johnson)

If you haven’t heard of the San Francisco-based trio Charged Particles, you’ve likely heard of the iconic artist that the group salutes on its latest CD: Live at the Baked Potato! (Summit) pays tribute to tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker (1949-2007). The album was recorded in March of 2019 at the famed Los Angeles nightclub, where keyboardist Murray Low, bassist Aaron Germain, and drummer Jon Krosnick, joined by tenor saxophonist Tod Dickow and guest percussionist Omar Ledezma, captured nine favorites from Brecker’s 20-year solo recording career and his work with sibling/trumpeter Randy in their heralded fusion act the Brecker Brothers. Randy, who knew his brother’s music better than anyone, testifies to the disc’s power on its back cover, calling it “smoking and intense from beginning to end.”

Dickow first played with Charged Particles in 2015, and his impassioned soloing presents a view into one window of the multifaceted tenor giant’s catalog. “Brecker’s in Tod’s blood, his sound, and his philosophy,” Krosnick says.

Even someone who’s never heard of Brecker has likely heard his playing. Before he succumbed to the bone-marrow disorder myelodysplastic syndrome, which eventually developed into leukemia, at age 57, the versatile saxophonist had a sideman career that stretched back to the late 1960s. His hundreds of sessions included work with Steely Dan, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Jaco Pastorius, Chick Corea, Parliament, Frank Zappa, Pat Metheny, George Benson, Frank Sinatra, and Herbie Hancock.

Live at the Baked Potato! features liner notes by Bill Milkowski, author of last year’s Ode to a Tenor Titan: The Life and Times and Music of Michael Brecker, which has provided Charged Particles with another partnership: a touring combination of Milkowski’s Brecker lectures with their musical tributes. Such showcases are featured at universities in Oklahoma and Virginia this March, bookending their mid-month tour of England. Other dates are scheduled throughout the United States in 2022.

“I’m thrilled with what we have so far,” Krosnick says, “even if budget restrictions and the ongoing pandemic mean that 2023 might be even better.”

Also featured within Live at the Baked Potato! are photos from the collection of Brecker’s widow, Susan Brecker, who’s quoted thanking Charged Particles for donating a portion of the album’s proceeds to the Michael Brecker Family Foundation. She started the organization after her husband’s death to support research toward a cure for his and other forms of cancer.

Through the Brecker tribute and a series of shows with Grammy-winning former Miles Davis saxophonist Paul McCandless, Charged Particles are branching outward. So is the equally under-the-radar Dickow. His channeling of Brecker’s tone and spirit, while maintaining his own stylistic voice, belies the fact that he has no recordings under his own name.

The propulsive drumming of Krosnick, a political science and psychology professor at Stanford University, has guided Charged Particles for 30 years. Its first three recordings were released when he was based in Ohio through 2011, with different personnel. Low, a jazz piano lecturer at Stanford, achieves combinations of piano, organ, synthesizer, and sampled sounds through complicated splits on his Kurzweil keyboard, as on Live’s “Not Ethiopia.” The versatile Germain effortlessly switches between electric (“Peep”) and acoustic upright basses (“Never Alone”). And Dickow breathes fire throughout, as is perhaps best exemplified on the complex “The Mean Time” from Brecker’s 2007 finale Pilgrimage, heroically recorded during his 2006 decline.

“I’ve always loved Pilgrimage,” Dickow says. “The technical things that Michael did, I’d say, are unmatched. He’s influenced generations that came after him and took music in directions where it hadn’t gone before.”

Perhaps Charged Particles—with Dickow, Milkowski, and McCandless—can continue that navigation.