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Bob Brookmeyer and the New Art Orchestra: Spirit Music

Jack Bowers By

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Clever title this, even though perchance unintended. Bob Brookmeyer (in his 76th year) and the impressive New Art Orchestra have recorded their fifth album, and first for ArtistShare, Spirit Music—in other words, the "Spirit of '76. Brookmeyer doesn't mention that in the liner notes, preferring to let others read between the lines and saying only that to circumvent "a routine that had developed [with the NAO] over the past ten years," he had "used a combination of new and recently composed (but never recorded) compositions, trying to select combinations and sequences that would make a good program.

The question thus becomes: how well has he succeeded? And the answer depends, in large measure, on the listener's temperament and frame of reference. The music is definitely well-written, as one would expect from Brookmeyer, and capably performed by the NAO, which is, he writes, "unique in any world I have ever known. To describe its over-arching substance, I would use the phrase "symphonic jazz, even though that is doubtless inadequate. The basic elements of jazz—rhythm, harmony, improvisation—are certainly ever-present, leavened with moments of beauty, swing, excitement and surprise, and embedded within a reliable framework of gentility. As Brookmeyer writes, "I am beginning to feel the need to leave behind music that has some real meaning, and this incredible band makes that possible —as does his incredible and seemingly boundless wellspring of energy and creativity.

Brookmeyer's Kansas City roots surface from time to time, most notably on "Silver Lining, a straight-ahead burner on which his valve trombone sparkles along with Oliver Leicht's clarinet. Alto Marko Lackner is showcased on "The Door, tenor Nils van Haften on "New Love, trumpeter Ruud Breuls (spelled Brells throughout) on "Dance for Life, Breuls and Brookmeyer on "Alone. The aptly named "Happy Song embodies solo space for Breuls, Lackner, pianist Kris Goessens and Hendrik Soll (synth), while the decorous finale, "The End, is a pensive tone poem for the ensemble.

Brookmeyer heaps praise on lead trumpeter Thorsten Benkenstein and drummer John Hollenbeck, and for good reason, as the band emulates and maximizes their power and precision. The NAO as a whole is excellent, and although Brookmeyer's music may not be to everyone's liking, it is invariably classy and never less than interesting. While I prefer big band sessions that swing harder and more often than this one, Spirit Music is recommended to those who lean toward a deeper and more cerebral approach.

Visit Bob Brookmeyer on the web.


Track Listing: The Door; New Love; Dance for Life; Happy Song; Alone; Silver Lining; The End (61:38).

Personnel: Bob Brookmeyer: composer, arranger, conductor, valve trombone; Thorsten Benkenstein, Sebastian Strempel, Torsten Maass, Ekhard Baur, Ruud Breuls: trumpet; Marko Lackner, Oliver Leicht, Nils van Haften, Matthias Erlewein, Edgar Herzog: reeds; Dominik Stoger, Christian Jaksjo, Anders Wiborg, Ed Partyka: trombone; Kris Goessens: piano; Hendrik Soll: synthesizer; Ingmar Heller: bass; John Hollenbeck: drums. Guest soloist: Kirsty Wilson: English horn (1).

Title: Spirit Music | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ArtistShare

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