Nice to see the great Bob Brookmeyer get some due from the New York Times on Friday, with his new album Spirit Music on its way. Darcy has the details and some cogent analysis here, (since the Times is making you pay for it at this point). Prodded by the article, I went back to a compilation of the Gerry Mulligan Big Band that Verve put together. (The only one I know of in print- help me here?) Brookmeyer was the self described "straw boss" of the outfit, and many of the arrangements are his.
Conceptually, it's a remarkable unit; in many of the arrangements Gerry and Bob basically take the modus operandi of Gerry's pianoless quartet, and blow it up with fifteen-plus guys. The band is big and powerful, yet tremendously fleet of foot- witness the blues shout "Blueport" for a great example. Bob in the article talks about how much Basie rocked his world, and echoes of the Basie band- the riffy backgrounds, ten bars of quiet followed by a brass stomach-punch- abound here. The album is also notable for the inclusion of George Russell's masterpiece "All About Rosie". I still remember the first time I heard that chart- it absolutely blew my mind. It ranks (along with Brookmeyer's "Hello and Goodbye" and Ellington's "Such Sweet Thunder") as the chart that kickstarted my decision to write for big bands. (It also led to a tremendously frustrating classroom experience with George at NEC, but that's another story...)
There's a reason beyond boredom for my sudden re-interest in all of this big band stuff, and it's not just Bob's new album. Towards the end of my two years studying with Bob, we talked a lot about what came next, as my writing had seemed to improve dramatically in my time with him, and he wanted me to keep going. He had been talking for a while about an "expirimental" 13 piece group, a little more flexible and slightly more feasible than the 20 piece band I'd been writing for. In the fall, I'm finally planning to getting around to the project, so right now I'm thinking very hard about what I want it to be. Now, just to put pen to paper every day, that's the hard part. More as this develops, hopefully.