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Bob Brookmeyer: Mosaic Select 9

Bob Brookmeyer has accomplished so much in his career that no label could really do him justice, but a term that definitely doesn’t work is “cool.” The music on Mosaic Select 9 shows clearly how his approach to valve trombone was defined by the hot schools, as well as what an effective pianist and creative musical thinker he was from the start.

The earliest recordings here produced a 1954 10-inch LP that’s never been rereleased on CD or even on 12-inch, called The Bob Brookmeyer Quartet. This is nice, no-nonsense stuff that grows on you with each listen. Particularly enjoyable are original tunes by Brookmeyer and Red Mitchell. The first CD is rounded out by an excellent date, The Street Swingers, that was co-led by Brookmeyer, Jim Hall and Jim Raney. The two Jims produced some of their best work in tandem, outstanding examples including a great session with Zoot Sims and the informal jams recorded at David Young’s flower district loft, which is where this particular group was conceived. The interplay between the two guitars is endlessly intriguing, and it speaks volumes that when Brookmeyer plays piano nobody ever gets in anybody’s way-generally it’s hard enough for one guitarist and a pianist not to step on each other’s toes. Hall’s “Arrowhead” is a minor masterpiece that foreshadowed the classic work he and Brookmeyer would soon do with Jimmy Giuffre.

The second and third discs here are drawn primarily from three LP’s: Tradition-alism Revisited, Kansas City Revisited and Stretching Out, all of which feature modern treatments of material from the classic and swing eras. The leader’s genuine interest in earlier styles is apparent in the choice of unobvious tunes like “Truckin'” and “Santa Claus Blues” for the first project. Trad types would probably be put off by the idea that Giuffre’s clarinet style has anything to do with their music, but it’s awfully nice for all that. They might likewise sniff at the inclusion of Edgar Sampson’s “Don’t Be That Way,” a swing tune if there ever was one, but most listeners just will be happy to hear this somehow-forgotten classic. Brookmeyer could find new approaches to older material as well as anyone ever has, as he would shortly demonstrate with the Gerry Mulligan Concert Band.

The stylistic fit is really no stretch at all on Kansas City Revisited, as one might expect with a leader who grew up there. Paul Quinichette’s soloing might have been closer to vintage Lester Young than Pres himself was in 1958, and the tenor battles with fellow disciple Al Cohn are a kick even if nobody tries to evoke Herschel Evans. One also hears (or perhaps just notices more) a healthy dash of Dickie Wells’ thinking in the leader’s playing and even some fairly Christianesque licks from Jim Hall, who really shines in his own quiet way on these sessions. Nat Pierce, of course, has only to sound like himself to evoke the K.C. piano tradition. While not earthshaking, this is nevertheless nice solid jazz that reminds us how good some of the mainstream sessions of the time were.

Stretching Out is sort of a follow-up, though contrary to what the title might lead one to expect, a lot of the interest here is in the well-crafted arrangements. That’s not to say that good solos don’t abound; with Cohn and the leader joined by Zoot Sims and Sweets Edison it would be strange if they didn’t. Hall is replaced by Freddie Green, one reason that the rhythm section here sounds just as Kansas City as the so-named recordings. With one really outstanding session and four very solid ones, Brookmeyer fans should be delighted with this set.

Unlike with Brookmeyer, the cool tag can be pretty safely applied to Bud Shank and Bob Cooper. Both were West Coas-ters who served apprenticeships with Stan Kenton and both employed lightly swinging rhythm sections and all kinds of arranging devices. Their names are especially linked in memory for recordings they made using flute and oboe, but they were accomplished multi-instrumentalists as well: Shank played alto, tenor, baritone and clarinet, and Cooper performed with tenor, bass clarinet and English horn. In listening to these discs, one can only wonder how they would have been remembered if the flute and oboe recordings hadn’t caught on; they certainly had a lot of colors on their palette, and for me it’s the alto-tenor combination that’s the most winning.

Actually it’s Brookmeyer, not Cooper, who shares frontline duties on one session (released as Bud Shank and Bob Brook-meyer), though he’s not among the three valve specialists on the 1954 sessions that made up Bud Shank and Three Trombones, for which Cooper contributed arrangements. Also collected together on Mosaic Select 10 are recordings that came out on Jazz at Cal-Tech, Blowin’ Country, Flute ‘n Oboe and a couple of anthologies. Strings are aboard for some of the Brookmeyer and flute-oboe recordings. Some of the string writing is effective, some unobtrusive and some will probably have some listeners thinking what a good feature the skip button on the CD player is. For me, most of the flute-oboe-strings stuff is just too sticky. Without the strings, Shank and Cooper are intelligent enough players to hold our interest for a track or two on any of their horns. They worked extremely well together, whether trading solos, playing arrangements or weaving exciting contrapuntal lines.

The same could be said of Brook-meyer and Shank. On their shared date Shank’s soaring alto work-somewhere between Phil Woods and Art Pepper stylistically-is more than enough to make up for the occasional corny string section riff (as on “When Your Lover Has Gone”). Brookmeyer is in fine fettle for this date, and his counterparts for the Bud Shank and Three Trombones title-Bob Enevoldsen, Stu Williamson and Maynard Ferguson-turn in interesting work, with Enevoldsen not surprisingly sounding more at ease than the two men known as trumpeters. The balance of the first two discs is made up of the Shank-Cooper sessions that aren’t completely devoted to flute and oboe, and there are lots of nice tunes, arrangements and soloing, especially on the live recording. But disc three will be the litmus test for perspective buyers; listeners who don’t care for the flute-oboe-strings combination will have to decide whether to spring for the box just to listen to two very good CDs. Since the running time is quite generous and the rest of the music very nice indeed, it might not be such an easy choice.

Originally Published