Nutmegging This Up

Hunting vintage jazz vinyl records in the Nutmeg State

Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer – The Power of Positive Swinging (1964, Mainstream)

 

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Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer – Ode to a Flugelhorn

 

Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer – Green Stamps

 

Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer – Simple Waltz

 

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It has taken me weeks to begin crafting this post, mainly because I am not a writer by trade or by nature, but also because the title of this record sums up so much of what I enjoy about the playing of these two musicians.  Clark Terry’s style is one that I’ve always equivocated with joy and the love of playing, which he seems to take as a literal interpretation of how to utilize the trumpet.  In terms of both the sunny sound that emanates from his horn and the tight loops and swirls that are characteristic of his lines, Bob Brookmeyer is a great match.  “Who likes the slide trombone?” Brookmeyer pondered in a lengthy interview with Marc Myers.  You can read more about how Brookmeyer gravitated to the valve trombone – not exactly a choice that was in his control, but not the mythical “learned it on the job” explanation that was rumor for some time – at jazzwax.com.  Over the course of the interview, Brookmeyer reveals many of the darker moments in his life that pepper the tremendous heights he reached as a sideman, leader, composer and arranger.  Additionally, he quick to mention with conviction that writing music is difficult.  Yet along this improbable path, Brookmeyer’s attitude is to keep going.  It’s not over until he says it is, so on and so forth.

Terry has also been interviewed by Myers, although their talk does not reach the depths of Brookmeyer’s career retrospective.  Certainly Terry faced adversity growing up in St. Louis and, like nearly all African American jazz musicians, had to navigate against current of racism that seemed to eschew entertainers when it was most convenient to their audience. His time with the Duke Ellington organization alone, around the time when Duke was born again at Newport, must have provided two lifetimes worth of experiences with plenty of struggles along the way.

Through the course of The Power of Positive Swinging, my ears want to label this as more of a “Clark Terry record” or a “Bob Brookmeyer record.”  My initial impression was to lean towards Terry because I’ve always felt that his presence on record is keenly felt amidst his peers, purely through his powerful sound and the exhilarating way he tosses off licks that always sound fresh.  Perhaps that’s why he can stand out so easily in situations where he pairs with some of music’s most idiosyncratic players (In Orbit with Thelonious Monk on piano, RLP 12-271), or leads an Ellington reunion without fading into the patchwork (Duke with a Difference, RLP 12-246).  That being said, Brookmeyer certainly goes toe to toe, never missing a step in the flurry of dueling pistons.  Perhaps he doesn’t play more bent, flipped, or half-valved notes than usually, but you certainly notice them more when they come up as a part of sparring with Terry.

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Of the original tunes by the co-leaders, there is a clear distinction between Terry’s desire to instill a composition with a sense of mood, while Brookmeyer cannot help but compose pieces that are hip and clever.  “Ode to a Flugelhorn” is a boon to its subject and its facilitator, providing Terry with plenty of space harmonically that he cannot help but fill with bubbling sextuplets that he hastily casts down upon his canvas.  “Green Stamps” is just a minor blues with the two horns working well in unison and tight harmony that makes a subtle point as to how well these unique players have matched their sounds together.  It’s amazing how both horns give off an air of glee even within the context of minor keys.  The rhythm section is brilliant throughout, though I feel the horns steal the show.  Roger Kellaway stands out on piano, not necessarily because he has almost as much solo space as Terry and Brookmeyer.  He plays with a spark of creativity you find on records where musicians are inspired by the way they bring the best out of each other.

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This mono pressing has some sort of damage or defect to it, which is unfortunate, but having stumbled upon this LP rather than a later reissue I am happy to have it.  Most Mainstream LPs I’ve found are reissues in somewhat unattractive packaging, almost always in stereo.

The liner notes are littered with depictions of a joyful atmosphere.  Enjoy.  Ebullient.  Pleasure.  Once you hear Terry and Brookmeyer’s cheerful banter on The Power of Positive Swinging, one particular portion of the liner notes begins to make much more sense:  “This,”Brookmeyer notes, “is ours.”

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This entry was posted on May 4, 2014 by .
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