Bob Brookmeyer, Standards
Sometimes you hear a CD, things come up, you store it away and forget about it, until something compels you to take it out of the closet, give it a spin, and you kick yourself for your negligence, you realize, suddenly, belatedly, that this is a really special album. That's my story with Bob Brookmeyer's Standards (on the ArtistShare label), a pretty magnificent send-off from one of the most elegantly inventive big-band composers in jazz, released in 2011, shortly before he died at the age of 81.
As the title suggests, it consists of Brookmeyer's arrangements of standards"How Deep Is the Ocean," "Love for Sale," "Come Rain Or Come Shine," "Detour Ahead," "Willow Weep for Me," among othersperformed by the New Art Orchestra, a fine 18-piece international ensemble (mostly German), fronted by Fay Claassen, a singer with a rich voice, thick velvet with a coolly abrasive edge (in a good sense), and straight ahead, more a soloist in the band than star of the show.
Brookmeyer was a valve trombonist and pianist who rose to acclaim in the early 1960s as a composer for Gerry Mulligan's Concert Band and the Mel Lewis-Thad Jones Big Band, before moving on to the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he taught a generation of jazz composers and continued to write and perform now and then. I was reminded of this CD while preparing a profile of one of his students, Darcy James Argue (another acolyte is Maria Schneider, about whom I've written a great deal). They're all differentas an educator, Brookmeyer was keener to help young composers perfect their voice than to impose his ownbut you can hear, in all of them, a riveted attention to harmony, rhythm, a driving melody narrative, and the ties binding the whole sonic signature: classic Brookmeyer traits.
You can listen to Standards casually, as a very satisfying piece of music. But listen more closely, and you'll hear what artistry is about: those stormy currents ebbing beneath the lush surface, the crescendos that erupt with startling inevitability, the seamlessness but also the dynamic flow: this is transparent and tactile, but it's not "easy listening."
Maria Schneider, a pioneer on the ArtistShare roster, wrote the passionate and instructive liner notes. Read them; they'll help alert you to what's special here. The sound quality is first-rate. The better your stereo system, the more you'll glean of Brookmeyer's essential subtleties, which, of course, is what this audio passion is all about.