In valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer's biography, one can trace the map of jazz's history, both musical and personal. Brookmeyer has spent time in many of jazz's major ensembles, including Basie, Thornhill, Ellington and Lewis, and small groups, playing with Mulligan, Getz, Giuffre and Mingus. Along the way he has taken part in and contributed to the music's orchestral and instrumental innovations. He has also unfortunately experienced one of jazz's major tragedies: substance addiction, a disease that nearly cost him everything.
In the late '70s Brookmeyer met drummer Michael Stephans, and, according to the trombonist, Stephans kept him playing. So, nearly thirty years on, they are both still improvising together, and in 2000 they recorded Stay Out of the Sun , but the sessions stayed unreleased until 2003. This set of nine tunes positively glows with a warm, relaxed spirit, a spirit that Brookmeyer probably helped create by dashing off four originals in a hotel room the day before the recording.
All pieces here convey an easy, velveted texture, a quality that at first covers the high-level dialogue occurring. Early in his musical education, Brookmeyer declared Anton Webern's symphony Op.21, to be "the only perfect piece of music I ever heard." Whether or not he still holds this opinion, the Austrian composer's influence still shows. Op. 21 is a short, spare piece, and its apparent simplicity and delicacy masks a chiseled, vigorous musical language. Such a bold language is spoken by this quartet, heard in their rich solos where every note means something, instant composition of subtle arrangements, and fluid interaction.
Guitarist Larry Koonse contributes a tango, "Longing," and Brookmeyer, on piano, graces its slightly melancholy, slightly romantic theme with dry dissonances. His solo equally wastes no note, including nothing that doesn't enrich or extend the theme.
Even though Brookmeyer's concept drives the band, everyone contributes. On "Wistful Thinking" Koonse takes a solo that rearranges your head harmonically, shuffling and stepping through changes in a blur. Then Brookmeyer and bassist Tom Warrington break into a twisting duet. Whether this stunning detail was improvised or arranged is not clear, but such ambiguity shows how confidently and naturally the group moves together.
On the group improvisation "Bruise" the quartet builds a narrative arc out of nothingness. An unsettled, free opening slides smoothly into a walking groove, Brookmeyer creates a theme and later Konse, Warrington and Stephans explore and stretch the pulse. To conclude, the group returns to the same restless intro-instant composition never sounded so easy.
Every piece, every solo sparkles with ideas, from Brookmeyer and Koonse's gravity-less interpretation of "Blue in Green" to the sly rhythmic breaks peppering the title track. The quartet speaks a fluent, eloquent language of their own. Stay Out of the Sun manages to sound simultaneously timeless, classic and modern.
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Personnel: Bob Brookmeyer: valve trombone, piano (4); Michael Stephens: drums; Larry Koonse: guitar; Tom Warrington: bass