The Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra – Overtime – Music of Bob Brookmeyer – Planet Arts 101413, 66:25 ****½:
(Nick Marchione, Tanya Darby, Terell Stafford, Scott Wendholt – trumpet/Flugelhorn; John Mosca, Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson, Douglas Purviance – trombones; Dick Oatts, Billy Drewes, Rich Perry, Ralph LaLama, Gary Smulyan – saxophones, flutes, clarinet; Jim McNeely – piano; David Wong – bass; John Riley – drums; Frank Basile – bass clarinet (#3, 5, 8); David Peel – French horn (#1, 5, 6, 8), Mike Truesdell – percussion (#1, 5, 8))
For over six decades Bob Brookmeyer was a jazz artist who easily met the endearing title, maestro. After all he was a leading valve trombonist, composer, pianist, and arranger – a man for all jazz seasons. During his career, he played with a multitude of jazz legends, and he should be included in that designation without a doubt. Just to name a few: Bob co-led groups with Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Giuffre, Clark Terry, and was an original member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (founded in 1966) for whom he was a major arranger. The Jones/Lewis Orchestra later morphed into the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra after the passing of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. As the Village Vanguard was their weekly “meeting place” the orchestra took on that moniker.
The Vanguard Orchestra has just released a tribute CD that consists of music composed for the band by Brookmeyer. This was a planned project CD, but Bob passed away in 2011 before its completion. The CD consists of four new arrangements, three previously unrecorded works that Brookmeyer composed in the 1980s for the orchestra, and a new arrangement of “Skylark” that was written to feature reed player, Dick Oatts. In the liner notes, band pianist Jim McNeely notes that late in life Brookmeyer abandoned the traditional tune/chorus structure for big band, instead blending the soloist with the ensemble “integrated into one continuous fabric.” This style of composition was utilized by Brookmeyer in his own European big band, The New Art Orchestra. (I highly recommend the purchase of his big band issues of the 2000’s issued by Challenge Records, especially Get Well Soon.)
Overtime opens with “The Big Time” which comes hard charging out of the gate, then the flutes and clarinet swing sweetly leading to a “circus” vamp before the ensemble blends in and the brass has a chorus. It becomes a free for all with a classical bent taking the tune out. Pure Brookmeyer…
Following is a “Suite for Three” written for three members of the orchestra: “Oatts” for alto saxophonist Dick Oatts, “Scott” for trumpeter Scott Wendholt, and “Rich” for tenor saxist, Rich Perry. Each swings like mad and have some classical overtones that ripen with repeated listening.
(I had the privilege to hear Brookmeyer lead a big band playing his compositions several years ago in Los Angeles and it was a rapturous experience with a “Coplandesque” beauty present. “XYZ” has solos for seven members including the entire rhythm section, tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone. It blends classical, jazz (both avant and mainstream) and themes that defy description, showing the complexity of Bob’s talents.
“Skylark” follows, and is an arrangement written for Dick Oatts thirty years ago. It’s a gorgeous chart and shows Bob’s lyrical romantic side. “At the Corner of Ralph and Gary” is a dedication to long time members, tenor man, Ralph LaLama, and the brilliant baritone saxophonist, Gary Smulyan. The two veterans display their talents together while the orchestra blends seamlessly in full support. The swing quotient is high at the corner where they meet.
The CD ends with a ballad, “Sad Song”, and while the band jokes in the liner notes that although Bob liked to support the dark side (and there is some of that here) that the “act of artistic creation brings optimism to the world.”
The loss of Bob Brookmeyer is felt deeply in the jazz community. Thank goodness we have his musical arrangements to soothe his absence.
TrackList: The Big Time, Suite for Three (Oatts, Scott, Rich), XYZ, Skylark, At the Corner of Rich and Gary, Sad Song