Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: OverTime: Music of Bob Brookmeyer

Bob Brookmeyer was a charter member of the Jazz Band, otherwise known as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and eventually the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. From the beginning he not only played valve trombone but also wrote for the group. Brookmeyer moved to the West Coast in 1968, returned to New York a decade later and became musical director of the band until the early 1980s, after which he moved to Europe, returning to the U.S. for extended stays now and then until his death in 2011. This album includes four pieces he wrote in the early ’80s for the then-named Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra and four he wrote for the group during the last eight or so years of his life.

With Brookmeyer, “the soloist and the ensemble are integrated into one continuous fabric,” pianist Jim McNeely writes in the album’s liner notes. As an example, we hear dense, dissonant, floating or swinging ensemble passages with soloists darting in and out of the massed sound. At other times the ensemble builds in a stately manner behind a soloist in a kaleidoscope of harmonic colors and rhythmic intensity. Brookmeyer’s methods range from the sounds of his hometown of Kansas City to the classical composers of Europe.

Dick Oatts is featured on three performances: zipping along on alto saxophone on “Oatts,” probing the emotional depths of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” (also on alto) and playing flute throughout the very dark, Eastern-sounding “Sad Song.” “Scott,” which features Scott Wendholt on flugelhorn, is a perfect tonal match of soloist and band. Tenor saxophonist Rich Perry matches wits with Brookmeyer’s cooking ensemble figures throughout “Rich.” Another saxophone workout, “At the Corner of Ralph and Gary,” features Ralph Lalama (tenor) and Gary Smulyan (baritone). “XYZ,” which includes several soloists (McNeely, Perry, drummer John Riley, bassist David Wong, soprano saxophonist Billy Drewes, trumpeter Terell Stafford and trombonist John Mosca) goes through several mood and tempo changes. “The Big Time,” the leadoff tune, includes no solos but is a fine introduction to Brookmeyer’s diversity as a composer.