Scott Yanow, in his liner notes for the orchestra's 1999 debut CD, New Works, ranked them as " one of the finest jazz-based big bands around today" and described Brookmeyer as "a composer and player who continues to grow and develop." Their fifth release, Spirit Music, confirms Yanow's assessment. While the instrumentation is standard big band, augmented by English horn and synthesizer, the orchestra's creative output defies categorization. There's strength in this band, and continuity without apathy. The integration of soloists and orchestra is superb. About half of the players, including the lead trumpeter, drummer and most of the soloists, appeared on New Works.
"The Door" is a beautiful theme. introduced by the English horn of guest Kirsty Wilson and restated with the power of the orchestra and the soaring alto of Marko Lackner. The tenderness and tranquility of "New Love" is expressed in Brookmeyer's chart and Nils Van Haften's tenor. Next are two dances: "Dance for Life" is a lilting arrangement that builds and builds, with drama provided by Ruud Brells' trumpet. "Happy Song" has a Celtic flavor and is full of shifting rhythms, counterpoint and percussion. The suggestion of melancholy that Brookmeyer mentions in his notes is apparent in "Alone" but quickly alleviated with the swingin' "Silver Lining." He contributes inspired solos to both. "The End" is a solemn ensemble piece ending with Bach-like exchanges between pianist and orchestra.
Brookmeyer is proud of the New Art Orchestra's musicianship and dedication. He deserves to be. Spirit Song reaches out to the human heart and spirit. It made me want to stop writing and just listen ...listen...listen.