Bob Brookmeyer and the New Art Orchestra have recorded their third CD for Challenge Records, and even though Brookmeyer has been working with the NAO for a couple decades now, Get Well Soon
is distinguished by the prominent role that trumpeter Till Brönner plays in it. A discovery for Brookmeyer when he first heard him at a Young People’s Concert in 1999, Brönner displays the same confident command and same high degree of imagination that first captured Brookmeyer’s attention. Indeed, Brookmeyer’s presence on Get Well Soon
primarily is that of composer, arranger and conductor, standing back to bask in the colors that emerge, as if paints were mixing to form newer, richer, less distinct hues, as the New Art Orchestra applies the coruscating sonic materials that Brookmeyer provides. In a lineage of jazz arranging emphasizing internal musical lines, effective use of dynamics and impressionistic scenic description like Claude Thornhill or Gil Evans, Brookmeyer thankfully continues to seek new means of expression as he builds upon past experiences without sacrificing quality or complexity, though his music remains accessible through its ever-present sense of swing, implicit or strongly stated.
In fact, the few short passages when we have the opportunity to hear Brookmeyer’s clear, concise combination of color and line on valve trombone occur during the two interludes on Get Well Soon.
For less than two minutes, Brookmeyer plays with piano/bass/drums, the interludes being connecting tracks with fresh and unadorned pure improvisation. Throughout the remainder of Get Well Soon,
the New Art Orchestra fulfills Brookmeyer’s musical intentions, his presence a component of all of the tracks even when he doesn’t play. For instance, the care and devotion that he invested in "Elegy" was a gift to his friend Earle Brown’s widow, written as Brown was dying, to help her through the grieving process, though its evocative passages, recalling some shared between Brookmeyer and his mentor Brown, emerge from the tonal palette of the NAO. "Lovely" itself evolves as a tone poem, a thing of beauty entirely self-contained as the narrative builds from the initial descending octaves under the suspended first notes into a melody of discovery as if the listener were going through doors that Brookmeyer’s hypnotic linear passages lure them toward.
Two other musicians are of special note, even though their roles are not as prominent as Brönner’s. Particularly on "Song, Sing, Sung" (ironic because it stands in stark contrast of spirit to the famous Benny Goodman/Gene Krupa version of "Sing Sing Sing"), pianist Kris Goessens kicks off the performance with an introduction of eerie trebled apparent dissonance over the bass-clef pedal tone in octaves, establishing the spirit of the piece before the Orchestra’s sections come in. And on the opening track, "Tah-DUM!" Goessens, in conjunction with the cymbal-crashing of drummer John Hollenbeck, sets up the sense of fun in the middle section with the single-note rhythm that creates the occasion for Brönner’s free improvisation. And then saxophonist Paul Heller enjoys his own space for stretching out with controlled abandon on "Get Well Soon," apparently inspired by the sound of the Orchestra behind him. Considering the unity of the New Art Orchestra, whether in gentle swing or in balladic ease, one suspects that every member of the Orchestra could claim attention as a soloist and contribute an inspiring statement, given the time and opportunity to so do.
As one of the few remaining prominent jazz orchestrators, inspiring musicians and orchestrators like Maria Schneider in the generation that follows his, Bob Brookmeyer continues to reinvent himself, adding even more notable accomplishments beyond his work in ground-breaking groups of the 1950’s and his arrangements for the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band of the 1960’s. Brookmeyer has found the perfect outlet for his talent with the New Art Orchestra, and the NAO is fortunate as well to have a leader such as Brookmeyer to help it achieve its potential.