Veterans Bob Brookmeyer and Kenny Wheeler explore shared sensibilities on Island, a collection that could have fit comfortably in Wheeler’s ECM catalogue, but instead spearheads the resuscitated Artists House label. Although they’ve not recorded together before, they set eachother up and finish eachother’s thoughts like a long married couple. The island in question seems more north Atlantic than Caribbean. While the program tends toward moody mid-tempo tunes, the high level of playing keeps monotony at bay.
The disc opens with “Before the First Time,” and Brookmeyer blowing breathy velvet. Bassist Jeremy Allen echoes and tweaks Brookmeyer’s lines, and when Kenny joins with Frank Carlberg on piano and John Hollenbeck on drums, the thaw is on. Brookmeyer and Wheeler join voices and justifiably show off their tones. Carlberg plays off the time to push the momentum, then it drops back to Brookmeyer and Allen with Hollenbeck whispering on cymbals. By the time Wheeler gets to drive the engine’s warmed up and he delights in sharp turns. Beginning slow and spacious, Wheeler’s “114” coalesces with soulful interplay between the horns. The rhythm section sets it on simmer while Wheeler takes a thrill ride solo. Brookmeyer covers as much ground with fewer notes. The ensemble plays a majestic outro.
“Song for Kenny” gives Wheeler some elegant minors to play through. He states the theme and finds Brookmeyer on the bridge. Their counterpoint gives way to Wheeler’s flowing take, which in turn yields to Brookmeyer’s swinging assessment. The piece ends wistfully. “Upstairs with Beatrice” swings with Brookmeyer telling his story first. Carlberg plays a repetitive line against a quirky drum pattern until Wheeler sails through sweeping everyone along. The arrangement includes some fine unison playing by the horns.
Brookmeyer’s “Island” boasts an exotic melody first stated by Wheeler. The sparse rhythm section leaves Wheeler and Brookmeyer room to trade lines and solo. The band lays out as Carlberg plays a dramatic interlude. Hollenbeck’s cymbals recreate wave song. “Strange One” works a Hollenbecks’s bowed bass and repetitive figure from Carlberg against Wheeler’s flight of inspiration. Brookmeyer turns the melody over while Hollenbeck experiments with odd ambient sounds.
The Brookmeyer/Wheeler collaboration shows two long time players apparently still in ascent.
Track Listing: Before the First Time; 114; Where Do We Go From Here?; Song for Kenny; Upstairs with Beatrice; Island; Strange One.
Personnel: Bob Brookmeyer (valve trombone); Kenny Wheeler, trumpet, flugelhorn; Frank Colberg, piano; Jeremy Allen, bass; John Hollenback, drums.