We all remember the 1950s and 1960s, don't we, in which everything that was American received a certain amount of column inches in the Stateside press, even Jazz artists. Old-fashioned American boosterism? A response to the uncertainties of the Cold War? Probably the former, because government funding of the arts continued to drop off over the ensuing 30-odd years, long before the Soviet Union stuck a fork in it. But still, in a culture that increasingly renders intelligence optional, it was nice to see Louis Armstrong, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, 'Trane, Miles, getting their 'props' while they were still around to enjoy them. And surely you recall what a big splash Duke Ellington's three Sacred Concerts got, if you are old enough.
Cross-cut to now, and the rather sad state of affairswe have in comparison. Jazz appears shunted off to 'special interest' --somebody must have forgotten how it was once called "America's Classical Music." The simple fact that fine new and existing talents like Bill Kirchner, the Jim Cifelli New York Nonet, Dave Douglas, Slide Hampton and Andreas Altmann, who choose to ply their trades on this side of the Atlantic, are squeezed by economic pressures into sketching their ideas to fit within groups often of less than ten, is one I've moaned about before in these e-pages. Witness, then, one Bob Brookmeyer, well-known to us Jazz heads of a certain age, and how he and his band of 20, the New Art, nail it to the wall with one stroke of the hammer on a CD which you simply must own. Yeah, I say that a lot. More than I probably should. But duhhh, as my 12-year-old daughter would say, maybe that means the state of the art of Jazz is not one we have to worry about so much. Artistically, anyway. And you should get your wallet out! Like, now. Buy the CDs we recommend here at Jazz Now, and all these new voices we talk about here may be able to do another one before they have to go back to their day jobs.
So, GET WELL SOON is, I'd say, as good as post-Kenton power swing gets any more. Tremendously muscular horn and winds writing of a sort we recall from Hampton's work desk predominates. John Hollenbeck plays a bravura, splashy drum style I could imagine Gene Krupa or Mousey Alexander having evolved into had they had the time, and Till Bronner's trumpet displays both miraculous wit and lip action. A young fellow whose influences do nod in here and there, Bronner's upper-register arabesques (listen to the fairly exploding "Over Here") and his definition of solo space are his alone. That's what happens when you listen to as much Anton Bruckner as Lester Young; it's the root, I think, of the difference the European players have always had with their American counterparts. Possibly for that reason the exquisitely detailed charts gracing "Lovely" and "For You" have a deep impressionistic beauty reminiscent of Gil Evans' work for Claude Thornhill, but without Evans' occasional reliance on sustained tonal centers. It's a music of details that draws you towards it rather than lifting off the bandstand and enveloping you. Pianist Kris Goessens levitates through a bit of twelve-tone screening above Hollenbeck's floating cymbal work in "Song, Sing, Sung"(the ghost of the dear departed Benny Goodman need not call his office), heralding the appearance of a series of reed section statements that floor me harder in their melodic delicacy every time I hear them. Goessens lifts through them and around, entering a space as still and pure as anything we've heard since Mingus' coda ME, MYSELF AN EYE. I have to say, if you really pin me down I'm a fan of the large groups farther to the left, like the London Improvisers' Orchestra, or any outfit Barry Guy works with; this, however, is as welcome as a day in the park with a picnic basket, some of your favorite people, and not too much of a sprint to the car when it starts to rain. And no, Bob B. does not gyp us with his trombone either: "Interlude #1" and "Interlude #2" are cheery little snapshots featuring Brookmeyer in the lead and a jolly swing very much in evidence from Hollenbeck and bassist Ingmar Heller. Add to that the bouncing, walloping first-up "Ta-DUM!"(but then, every orchestra needs a "How's This For Openers?" in their book) and the sweet nod to Red Garlandin "Elegy" (you'll hear it)... and we round out to 66 minutes of top-drawer stuff. Thanks to Challenge Records, and Bob too. Keep it up, all.
by Kenneth Egbert
Jazz Now Interactive July 2004 Vol 14 No. 3 - Table of Contents