Bob Brookmeyer: Electricity
Electricity is another one of an infrequent series of recordings by Bob Brookmeyer, who used to pop up all over the place throughout the 1950s and 1960s. While he's always been rooted firmly in the mainstream (Gerry Mulligan, the Concert Jazz Band, the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra and his own records on Verve), Brookmeyer has also consistently approached creative music in unorthodox ways (his two-piano quartet with Bill Evans, and his trombone jazz samba records). His greatest gifts, though, are his contributions to orchestral jazz. His tonal palette has many more shades than one expects. As a result, his compositions and arrangements often require more than one listen. There's much to appreciate in his music's richness and depth. Even though in his notes to Electricity , Brookmeyer writes, "I think that I'm looking more for meaning and worrying less about coloring the orchestra," he manages to achieve both here.
But Electricity , as its title may suggest, is by no means a look backwards. Many of Brookmeyer's six long tunes (ranging from seven to sixteen minutes each) are framed by John Abercrombie's thrashing electric guitar or cushioned by his tasteful guitar synth or other electronic keyboards. This March 1991 recording finds Brookmeyer fronting the excellent WDR Big Band (which also supports Mike Gibbs, Bernard Purdie and Eddie Harris on other recent Act Jazz releases). The German WDR Big Band, like the Dutch Metropole Orchestra, are all that remain of the great jazz orchestras - many of which Brookmeyer has successfully contributed to since the early 1950s!
All of these pieces have a progressive, story-like pattern to them, utilizing Abercrombie as the principal storyteller. "Farewell New York" is a 16-minute dirge that begins with Abercrombie's dissonant guitar-synth wail then progresses into march-like cadenzas to eventually find the guitarist in a more contemplative mood. Its intensity oddly recalls Elton John's "Funeral for A Friend." The album's strongest tracks, "Ugly Music" and "Say Ah" bring to mind those cool, jazzy soundtracks of Italian mystery films from the 1970s (i.e.: Deep Red ). Abercrombie is simply amazing throughout. He can mine the wealth of innovations from Hendrix and Montgomery to Farlow and Frisell and yet never lose his own multiply talented identities.
One senses that Electricity more successfully achieves much of what Gil Evans was trying to accomplish in the late 1970s and 1980s with his own big bands. Aside from the lovely, almost simplistic harmonies and rhythmic patterns, Brookmeyer's choice of a main soloist with multiple talents (in this case, Abercrombie) is perfect. Some listeners may be discouraged that Brookmeyer didn't showcase his own beautiful and distinctive valve trombone (his only real features are brief ones in "No Song" and "The Crystal Place"). But that's a small gripe. Brookmeyer always reveals so much more as a musician in his orchestrations. For the small group fans, however, Challenge Records recently issued Brookmeyer's Paris Suite , a 1993-94 session which finds the valve trombonist leading a Dutch quartet.
Electricity is highly recommended to those who appreciate the lost art of orchestral jazz in a contemporary setting and, most especially, to fans of John Abercrombie who is nothing short of brilliant in his varied roles here.