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Friday, Dec. 14, 2007

WRAPPING UP MUSIC OF 2007

Miles Davis is now complete, Michael Brecker's journey ends


Staff writer

Miles Davis, "The Complete On The Corner Sessions (Box Set)" (Sony Music Japan International)

Released three years after his seminal 1969 fusion album "Bitches Brew," "On The Corner" was a four-song, experimental and electric rock-soul-funk stew that, in Miles Davis' words, was "not jazz." Poorly received by both critics and consumers at the time, the album gets a second life in a colorful, six-disc, six-hour-long box set (the eighth and final in the Miles Davis Sony Legacy series) with a 120-page booklet offering clues of what it was like at the recording sessions.

Every track recorded by Davis from 1972 until 1975 appears here, including the 1974 double set of collected recordings "Big Fun" and 1975's "Get up With it," as well as "On The Corner" itself. By looping, overdubbing and programming, the recordings show just how prescient Davis' musical ideas were, although they weren't always entirely his own. They also show how, by breaking out of perceived boundaries (particularly the notion that jazz was a live, improvisational form), Davis subsumed electronic music and jazz into a soulful sound that could be danceable while at the same time give off some insanely otherworldly vibes.

Michael Brecker, "Pilgrimage" (Universal)

When Michael Brecker died at age 57 in January, it marked the end of a musical journey that took the saxophonist across nearly every spectrum of postwar popular music.

Like a chameleon, Brecker fit in no matter if he was playing jazz, pop, rock, or funk, among others, and it is perhaps this versatility that diminished his place as a jazz musician, until his last album, released posthumously.

Every song on "Pilgrimage" is solid, coherent, and full of drive, undoubtedly because Brecker composed all of them, creating a lasting legacy to a career tragically cut short by illness.

Herbie Hancock, "River: The Joni Letters" (Universal)

With featured guest vocalists including Norah Jones and Tina Turner to the fore, "River" may seem like a continuation of Herbie Hancock's 2005 album "Possibilities," which saw the pianist team up with pop vocalists such as Christina Aguilera, Paul Simon, and Annie Lennox. And though the six vocal tracks are based on those penned by pop-folk singer Joni Mitchell, "River" is firmly in jazz territory. These arrangements complement the instrumental tracks well, such as a reworked Wayne Shorter piece, "Nefertiti," played by the tenor saxophonist with aplomb, as Hancock runs cascades of trilling notes down on the melody.

Like Brecker did, Hancock challenges himself to create rather than merely resting on reputation.

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