Bob Brookmeyer doesn’t write conventional big-band “charts.” Instead, he composes sophisticated, creative works for jazz orchestra that fuse traditional big-band techniques with elements from the broader musical landscape. Yet as advanced as Brookmeyer’s approach is, it doesn’t require either a composer’s ear or a theorist’s knowledge to relate to it. Spirit Music, his latest offering with his superb Germany-based New Art Orchestra, is suffused with beautiful melodies and gorgeous harmonies—and its pulse is always present, even if it’s at times flexible. “The Door” opens the album in simple fashion with an extended, soft pedal point, and in keeping with the composer’s aim for an integrated program, a similar pedal closes “The End,” the final track. The music in between, much of it projecting a folk like and pensive—sometimes melancholy—mood, is consistently interesting and emotionally satisfying.
Brookmeyer solos on the most straightahead track, “Silver Lining” (a cousin to “Blue Skies”), and on the ruminative “Alone.” His valve trombone brings an earthy Kansas City sensibility to both.
The ensemble is as good as they come—precise and cohesive, perfectly in tune and ideally balanced. As Brookmeyer would have it, the fine soloists strive to integrate their improvisations with the compositions.