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Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: OverTime: Music of Bob Brookmeyer

Jack Bowers By

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While it may be hard to believe, the reality is that the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is nearing the end of its first half-century together. Formed in 1966 as the Thad Jones -Mel Lewis Orchestra, it continued on after Jones' departure as the Mel Lewis Orchestra, then as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra after Lewis' death in February 1990. During many of those years, the ensemble was enriched by the compositions and arrangements of the renowned Bob Brookmeyer (1929-2011), a master craftsman who always marched to his own drummer and let his unerring instincts guide his heart and his hand.

OverTime, which honors not only Brookmeyer's considerable talents but those of the orchestra as well, was years in the making and almost ready for the green light while Brookmeyer was still alive. Three years later, having added some finishing touches (including the buoyant opener, "The Big Time"), the VJO has designed a heartwarming celebration that would surely have pleased even such a diehard perfectionist as their late taskmaster. Half of the eight selections were written in the early '80s when Brookmeyer, the orchestra's original lead trombonist, returned after a ten-year absence to become its music director. As it turns out, the first chart he submitted upon his return was the soulful "Skylark," a showpiece for alto saxophonist Dick Oatts that is generally considered to be one of the more exemplary arrangements for a large ensemble in the annals of jazz. "Skylark" is reproduced here, and once again Oatts is the perceptive soloist.

Also written in the early '80s but never before recorded by the VJO are "XYZ," a skittering sequel to Brookmeyer's classic "ABC Blues," and "Sad Song," another vehicle for Oatts (on flute) that closes the album. "Suite for Three," a galvanic pastiche that features, in turn, Oatts, trumpeter Scott Wendholt and tenor Rich Perry, was composed later, while "At the Corner of Ralph and Gary," a happy-go-lucky swinger that hearkens back to his early years in Kansas City, was the last manuscript completed by Brookmeyer. The breezy solos on "Ralph and Gary" are by tenor Ralph Lalama and baritone Gary Smulyan, on "XYZ" by tenor Perry, drummer John Riley, bassist David Wong, pianist Jim McNeely, soprano Billy Drewes, trumpeter Terell Stafford and trombonist John Mosca. "Sad Song" is precisely that, a snail-like dirge underscored by Oatts' gossamer flute, McNeely's evocative piano and a wordless chorus.

From start to finish, OverTime presents the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at its best, playing with passion and panache to honor its fallen leader. And even though he's gone, Brookmeyer's impact is pervasive, as he gives the orchestra meaty songs and charts to digest. A shame he couldn't be here to appreciate the finished product, but even without him the VJO moves ever onward and upward. Brookmeyer wouldn't have had it any other way.

Track Listing: The Big Time; Suite for Three: Oatts / Scott / Rich; XYZ; Skylark; At the Corner of Ralph and Gary; Sad Song.

Personnel: Nick Marchione: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tanya Darby: trumpet, flugelhorn; Terell Stafford: trumpet, flugelhorn; Scott Wendholt: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dick Oatts: alto, soprano sax, flute; Billy Drewes: alto, soprano sax, flute; Rich Perry: tenor sax, flute; Ralph Lalama: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Gary Smulyan: baritone sax; Frank Basile: bass clarinet (3, 5, 8); David Peel: French horn (1, 5, 6, 8); John Mosca: trombone; Luis Bonilla: trombone; Jason Jackson: trombone, bass trombone; Douglas Purviance: bass trombone; Jim McNeely: piano; David Wong: bass; John Riley: drums; Mike Truesdell: percussion (1, 5, 8).

Title: OverTime: Music of Bob Brookmeyer | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Planet Arts Records

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