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Kansas City–bred valve trombone master Bob Brookmeyer is top–billed on this handsomely conceived and superbly performed album because it was a gift from Ed Partyka’s Jazz Orchestra and a number of prominent composer / arrangers to Brookmeyer on his seventieth birthday in December 1999. Partyka, a Chicagoan who has lived since 1990 in Cologne, Germany, had taken part in Brookmeyer’s Jazz Composers’ Workshops in Cologne, was deeply influenced by them and sought to repay the debt by producing a big–band tribute that would feature Brookmeyer as soloist on a number of pieces written especially for him. Partyka began by contacting Bill Holman, Jim McNeely and Maria Schneider, hoping that at least one of them would be willing to lend a hand. Not only did all three readily agree to take part in the enterprise, but renowned composer / arranger Manny Albam (who, sadly, left us earlier this year), on hearing what was afoot, offered to write a new work for the occasion, as did Marko Lackner of Austria, Frank Reinshagen of Germany and American drummer John Hollenbeck. Partyka contributed “Madly Loving You,“ a reconception of Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly.” The orchestra he assembled for the party, comprised mainly of veterans of Cologne’s Sunday Night Orchestra, the Partyka–Ansgar Striepens ensemble and other topnotch Western European big bands, was patterned after the 1958 Miles Davis–Gil Evans collaboration on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The session, recorded in Ludwigsburg in September ’99, must have tested Brookmeyer’s stamina as well as his musical acumen, as he is the principal soloist on every number (with some help from clarinetist Oliver Leicht on “Loving You Madly” and tenor Matthias Erlewein on Reinshagen’s “Prelude”). But if Brookmeyer was working up a sweat he shows no sign of it; his playing is as laid–back, mellow and crisp as ever, and if he had surrendered any of his creative energy to the inroads of time that’s not apparent either. As for the music on offer, it’s rather a mixed bag with the number of truly engaging moments overshadowing others that are less so. Holman’s cleverly named “Septuagenary Revels” is a splendid curtain–raiser with the usual Holmanesque touches complementing Brookmeyer’s limber solo. Lackner’s shapely ballad, “Green Dreams,” is followed by one of Schneider’s more inspired compositions, “Anthem,” whose eloquent statements by brass and reeds build in intensity while providing a perfect backdrop for Brookmeyer’s tasteful trombone. Albam’s strapping composition, “Going on 29,” gives the guest of honor ample room to stretch, as does McNeely’s typically challenging “Another Pair of Socks. . .” Reinshagen’s “Prelude” is sharply written but often less than compelling, while “Madly Loving You” invokes the spirit of Ellington to underscore lambent solos by Leicht and Brookmeyer and formidable drumming by Hollenbeck. For the finale, Partyka turned again to Hollenbeck who responded with “Processional / Desiderata,” the second part of which (we assume) features Brookmeyer speaking instead of playing. Noble sentiments, well-orchestrated too but more suited to the occasion than to a big-band album. It was, however, Brookmeyer's party, and he should be given leave to interpose at least one departure from the norm. As he'll be turning seventy-two next month, we'd be remiss if we did not say "Happy birthday, Bob, and best wishes for your continued health, happiness and good fortune."
Contact:Steve Pringle, Allegro Music, 14134 NE Airport Way, Portland, OR 97230–3443. Phone 503–257–8480, ext. 2103; fax 503–257–9061; e–mail steve@allegro–music.com
Track Listing: Septuagenary Revels; Green Dreams; Anthem; Going on 29; A Nice Tie, a Pair of Socks . . .; A Small Prelude, You Will See It (If You Go There); Madly Loving You; Processional / Desiderata (72:43).
Personnel: Ed Partyka, conductor; Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombone; Marko Lackner, alto, soprano sax, flute, piccolo; Oliver Leicht, alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo; Matthias Erlewein, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet, flute; Frank Delle, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet, alto flute; Edgar Herzog, baritone sax, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute; Thorsten Benkenstein, Sebastian Strempel, Torsten Maass, Thomas Gansch, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dominik St