In October of 1995, when Tenor Saxophonist MICHAEL BRECKER arrived in Finland to perform with the country’s finest Big Band, the UMO JAZZ ORCHESTRA (“Uuden Musiikin Orkesten” or “New Music Orchestra”), he was at the peak of his musical prowess. Universally acknowledged as the most influential saxophonist of his generation, the Grammy-award winning performer and composer was playing widely and often with his own groups, with his brother Randy (The Brecker Brothers) and with musicians spanning the spectrum from Elvin Jones to James Taylor, from Joni Mitchell to McCoy Tyner. Mike was pleased to be in Helsinki, with a unique opportunity to play Big Band versions of his own tunes, a couple by his old boss Horace Silver, standards and even songs and arrangements commissioned specifically for the live concert. Charts by brilliant arrangers like Vince Mendoza, Michael Mossman, Jiggs Whigham, Kenny Berger and conductor Rich Shemaria inspired Michael, and, naturally, he rose to the occasion. LIVE IN HELSINKI 1995 is the only album with Mike (alone, without Randy) fronting a Big Band.
Recorded impeccably by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, this album captures Brecker at this most fiery, yet most relaxed. As with the best live concerts, the spontaneity is evident. He and the band soar on Sliver’s “Nica’s Dream” and the barn-burning “Nutville;” they incinerate Berger’s chart for “Invitation.” Every track is a highlight. Michael’s originals “Slang,” and “Song for Barry” and “Never Alone” were all reshaped by Shemaria to showcase the saxophonist in an expansive setting. The beautiful “Andrea’s Song” was commissioned specifically for UMO and Mike; the piece debuted on this night. Another tune Mike had recorded previously, “The Meaning of the Blues,” is given a patented Brecker workout. “Ginare” was also written for the night — Mike determined that he and the young Finnish tenor player, Manuel Dunkel, should engage in a “tenor battle.” The thrilling performance tore down the house, and created a lifelong inspiration for the younger European firebrand. Dunkel is still an active member of UMO.
In 1995, no one had a clue that the great MICHAEL BRECKER would contract a horrible cancer, one that would ultimately end his life. Random Act Records will donate Ten Percent of all proceeds from all sales of this project to the Love Hope Strength Foundation, a nonprofit supported by the Brecker family. Concerts like this one in Helsinki are reminders of the fragility, but also the glory, of life. This album is a gift from Michael, an evening that reinforces his legendary legacy.