Gloomy Sunday and Other Bright Moments

Although Bob Brookmeyer has figured prominently in a number of jazz orchestral albums, he feels with justification that this is his most successful venture yet as a leader in that challenging area. He wrote the arrangements on the entire second side and commissioned Ralph Burns, Gary McFarland, Al Cohn, and Eddie Sauter to undertake the other four numbers. “The basic idea,” Brookmeyer points out, “was maximum self-expression for all the writers involved. This is definitely not jazz-a-la-mode in the sense that we were trying to exploit what is currently fashionable. Everything here is entirely personal. There’s a lot of whimsy in it, much delight in using the full color range possible in a jazz orchestra, and a series of equally personal improvisations by the soloists within the particular context of each arrangement.”

What especially strikes this listener is that although there has been a great deal of concentration by the five writers on freshly detailed, interweaving voicings, the overall feeling throughout is remarkable relaxed. Since the sidemen involved have worked together frequently, there is an exuberant collective unity which results in an incisively swinging big band performance. The musicians, moreover, all have extensive experience in big band playing so that they blend and shade expertly, an increasingly rare skill in jazz. With so supple and multi-colored an orchestral setting, the solos become absorbingly integrated into the total musical experience. In short, this is not simply a string of choruses over a conventional, predictable set of backgrounds. This is a uniquely orchestral album.

Of Ralph Burns, who scored Caravan, Brookmeyer observes that “he always comes up with just what you need. He not only has the imagination, but also an extraordinary reservoir of technique.” Aside from Brookmeyer, the soloists are altoist Gene Quill and Eddie Costa on vibes. As on the rest of the tunes, the rhythm section is flowingly cohesive with Mel “The Taylor” Lewis fusing all the various ensemble and solo strands into a pulsing unity. Note too the exhilarating bite and brio of the brass section.

Gary McFarland is clearly on of the most resourceful of the younger arrangers. He has contributed to recordings by the Modern Jazz Quartet, Johnny Hodges, Anita O’Day, and Ray Brown, among others; and his jazz version of How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying (Verve V/V6-8443) excels every other jazz interpretation of a show score in recent year in high spirits and ingenuity. His Why Are You Blue has also been recorded by Johnny Hodges (Blue Hodges, Verve V/V6-8406). Here, the melody at the beginning and the end is played by Clark Terry with Nick travis taking the mocking plunger solo. On this an all the other tracks, the trombonist is Brookmeyer.

Al Cohn’s romping Some of My Best Friends has an Ellington tinge in its coloration and underlines Al’s capacity to write for sections so that they play with an infectious looseness and rhythmic ease. The first trumpets solo is by Joe Newman and the second by Clark Terry. Eddie Costa is on vibes, and in the final spirited dialogue between Newman and Terry, Newman again is heard first. Along with the shifting ensemble textures, there’s an intriguing interplay between the distinctly different sounds of Newman and Terry and Brookmeyer’s burry range of colors.

Brookmeyer names Eddie Sauter his favorite writer, and Sauter responsible for this continuously surprising arrangement of Gloomy Sunday which combines romanticism, pungent humor (“Sauter can never stay serious for too long,” Brookmeyer explains), and several brilliant contrapuntal passages. Phil Woods is the alto soloist.

The rest of the album is Brookmeyer’s. His own Ho Hum is literally spoken by trumpets and trombones at the top and the soloists in addition to Brookmeyer are Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Al Cohn, and Terry again. Detour Ahead illustrates Brookmeyer’s characteristically oblique humor. (“It sort of sounds like a Spanish marching band in places,” he adds.) Phil Bodner is on English horn.

On Brookmeyer’s arrangement of Gary McFarland’s Days Gone By, Oh My!, the trumpet solo is by Clark Terry and Phil Woods is on clarinet. Here, as in all the Brookmeyer charts, there is a beguiling play of sonorities through a skilful variety of voicings that indicate the command Brookmeyer now has of his materials. The brass writing in particular is both ingenious and often euphoric for both the player and listener. The final Where, Oh Where is from Cole Porter’s 1950 show, Out of This World. After setting the verse gently, Brookmeyer handles the graceful theme with good-humored affection and imagination.

All that remains to be said is that as diversely accomplished as the arrangements and the other soloist are, the core of the album is Brookmeyer himself. Few instrumentalists have shown so steady a growth as Brookmeyer during the past ten years. From his first appearance on the New York jazz scene, Brookmeyer evidenced a highly individualized style. He has since grown not only technically but in terms of the subtleties of expression – textural, conceptual, and rhythmic – he draws from his valve trombone. There is a pervasive warmth and unpretentiousness in his work that is the mark of a mature musician who is free of the pressures of hi-status-seeking that have constricted some of his contemporaries. And above all, there is playful Brookmeyer wit – ironic, sardonic, and sometimes just brimming with all unalloyed pleasure of making music that is unmistakably and refreshingly his own.

--- Nat Hentoff

Cover painting by Olga Albizu
Recorded in New York City
November 6, 7, & 8, 1961
Produced by Creed Taylor
Caravan --- (Ellington, Tizol/arr. Ralph Burns)
Why Are You Blue --- (comp & arr. Gary McFarland)
Some of My Best Friends --- (comp & arr. Al Cohn)
Gloomy Sunday --- (Seress/arr. Eddie Sauter)
Ho Hum --- (Bob Brookmeyer)Listen!
Detour Ahead --- (Carter, Ellis, Frigo/arr. Brookmeyer)Listen!
Days Gone By, Oh My! --- (Brookmeyer)Listen!
Where, Oh Where? --- (Porter/arr. Brookmeyer)Listen!

Collective Personnel:
Trumpets: Bernie Glow, Doc Severinsen, Joe Newman, Clark Terry, Nick Travis

Trombones: Bob Brookmeyer, Billy Byers, Bill Elton, Wayne Andre, Alan Raph

Reeds: Gene Quill, Eddie Wasserman, Phil Woods, Eddie Caine, Al Cohn, Phil Bodner, Wally Kane, Gene Allen

Rhythm: Eddie Costa (vbs, perc), Hank Jones (pno), George Duvivier (bass), Mel Lewis (drums)

Arrangers: Gary McFarland, Eddie Sauter, Ralph Burns, Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer