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The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: OverTime: Music Of Bob Brookmeyer

Dan Bilawsky By

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Trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer extraordinaire Mel Lewis may have given birth to the band that's now known as The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, but the late Bob Brookmeyer gave the group artistic independence at a time when it was sorely needed.

When Jones left the fold and departed for Europe at the tail end of the '70s, things could've gone a very different way for this storied outfit: it could've simply carried on as a pretty good band that covered Thad Jones' music, endlessly recycling songs of the then-recent past. The Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, né Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, was certainly headed in that direction at that point in time, but Brookmeyer was the game-changer. He took the reins, ushering in a new era of creativity for this organization.

Brookmeyer tightened and polished up the band's interpretations of the Jones charts, brought in new music, and allowed the organization to stand as a creative force that's forever connected to its founders, but constantly evolving. In the process, he also got his own creative juices flowing again, as this band served as his laboratory for compositional and arranging experimentation. Brookmeyer eventually followed in Jones' footsteps, leaving America and setting up shop in Europe, but he never completely severed his ties with this organization. He played with the band on occasion and, in 2008, he finally brought up the idea about making a new recording with The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

While Brookmeyer didn't live long enough to see this album to completion, he was around long enough to shape it. He delivered four new pieces—all homages to various members of the band—that share space with some of his older compositions. "Suite For Three" focuses in on the sound of longtime VJO alto hero Dick Oatts, who works atop fragmented rhythms on his namesake movement, trumpeter Scott Wendholt, whose horn brings warmth and brightness to the sensitive setting made in his honor, and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, who uncorks one brilliant phrase after another on his lively showcase number. The fourth new one—"At The Corner Of Ralph And Gary"—is a sly swinger that gives pause to admire the interactive spirit of band with soloist(s); the handiwork of the two soloists—baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama—lines up perfectly with the movements of the whole apparatus here.

The four remaining selections on the album were culled from the Brookmeyer book that took shape between 1979 and 1981. Oatts gets to revisit Brookmeyer's landmark "Skylark" arrangement more than three decades after he originally recorded it with this group; a parade of soloists shine during "XYZ"; rapidly shifting ideas and chromatic pathways are explored during "The Big Time," a previously unrecorded Brookmeyer chart from said time period; and the powers of space and suggestion are on display as Oatts' flute casts spells during the haunting "Sad Song."

Most composers that are blessed with long life tend to outlive their inventiveness, but the opposite seems to be true in the case of Bob Brookmeyer: his body left this world in 2011, but his body of work is still turning heads.

Track Listing: The Big Time; Suite For Three: Oatts, Scott, Rich; XYZ; Skylark; At The Corner Of Ralph And Gary; Sad Song.

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

Title: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: OverTime: Music Of Bob Brookmeyer | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Planet Arts Records

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