Bob Brookmeyer: 7 x Wilder

C. Andrew Hovan By

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What has hampered Brookmeyer these days from getting any kind of residual acclaim is the fact that so many of his early masterpieces are simply unavailable.
Although he never really received much of the recognition due to him at the time, valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer developed a distinctive catalog in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s that asserted the lighter strains of West Coast ‘cool’, but below the surface burned with a hale and hearty flame that owed just as much to the bebop language. What has hampered Brookmeyer these days from getting any kind of residual acclaim is the fact that so many of his early masterpieces are simply unavailable. His spate of activity for Verve Records alone includes the mainstream brilliance of The Blues, Hot and Cold and the wistfully melodic strains of Trombone Jazz Samba. In addition, one would have to add the United Artists release Kansas City Revisited to the list of quintessential Brookmeyer sides yet to see the light of day on CD.

For our purposes this month, we focus on another Brookmeyer gem from the Verve era, namely the 1961 release 7 x Wilder. Working in a quartet setting, Brookmeyer matches personalities flawlessly with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Bill Crow, and drummer Mel Lewis, while paying homage to iconoclast composer Alec Wilder. One of the best and most memorable tunes from the Wilder cannon is “While We’re Young,” treated here as a waltz and finding Brookmeyer playing piano with a minimalist approach. The other line which might be familiar is “It’s So Peaceful In the Country,” rendered ever so delicately this time with our leading man on trombone. Not lost on today’s astute musicians, this melodic jewel can also be heard in a more recent version by pianist Bill Charlap.

Brookmeyer would pen “Blues For Alec” and it serves as one of the lengthier cuts, Hall and the trombonist stretching out in a bluesy vein that brings out the best solos of the set. It’s also here that you really notice the way this ensemble breathes as one, Lewis and Crow never intruding on the generally restrained mood, but not failing either to support the soloists firmly. A sublime gem that deserves a reissue, along with the rest of his Verve sides, 7 x Wilder is Brookmeyer at his finest with an obscure performance from Jim Hall to boot.

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