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UMO Jazz Orchestra with Michael Brecker: Live in Helsinki 1995

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When this stellar archival find was recorded two decades ago, tenor saxophonist Manuel Dunkel was a 24-year-old member of Finland’s UMO Jazz Orchestra and a major Michael Brecker fan. Imagine his elation upon learning that he’d be sharing a stage with his idol for a gig at the Royal Cotton Club in Helsinki. And imagine the nerves he must have felt when said idol suggested during rehearsal that they trade eights on a piece written for the occasion, Kirmo Lintinen’s rather convoluted “Ginare.”

You can hear some of those nerves in the final performance; particularly toward the end of their duel, Dunkel seems wary of getting in Brecker’s way. But Brecker keeps egging Dunkel on, echoing and extending the other player’s lines, honking out his approval. What lingers well beyond any minor flaws in execution is the poignant impression of a master player (gone far too soon, as we all know) encouraging a promising youngster (regarded today as one of his country’s finest jazzmen).

UMO conductor Rich Shemaria writes in the liner notes that Brecker was experimenting with a new mouthpiece at this time, aiming for a darker tone. That darkness is both evident and welcome, a perfect match for the orchestra’s intensity, which can exhibit a manic edge. On “Nica’s Dream,” one of two tracks written by erstwhile Brecker employer Horace Silver, the band is almost out of control as it noisily careens through the head, and Brecker responds with a breathtaking sheets-of-sound solo. He also imbues the Chuck Clark composition “Andrea’s Song” with yearning romanticism, and gives a mini-clinic in humorous overblowing and bent notes during his own “Song for Barry,” splendidly arranged by Shemaria. It all adds up to a superb, lasting showcase for both UMO and its very special guest.

Originally Published