Cary Kilner's Picks: Volume 6
This week we'll begin to investigate big-band jazz. Everyone loves it but usually thinks about the classic BBs. However, there are some exceptional new bands about which I did not know until my MC Choice Jazz station presented them. I’ll try to share one new one each week.
A good BB should play like a small group, with a swinging rhythm section, tight writing and playing, and great soloists -- everything in sync and sounding loose and organic. The traditional example is perhaps the Basie band, but for me the new standard is the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra that used to play Monday nights at the Village Vanguard in NYC (I’ve heard them live). Both albums excerpted from below are outstanding, so those two choices are rather arbitrary.
The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra - Mean What You Say
From their debut album we hear the first tune, Mean What You Say. The album is of very high acoustic quality from what was the innovative Solid State studio at the time. It features some beautiful playing by Hank Jones with Richard Davis (who is not heard much but whom I consider one of the great jazz bass players along with Ron Carter). The intro-section could be a trio recording on its own. Then a great sax soli with brass punches, a mellow groove, and excellent solos from Thad and Joe Farrell. The ending features a build-up in energy you will thoroughly enjoy.
The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra - The Little Pixie
This opening tune, The Little Pixie, from this second and live album, is also beautifully recorded and simply kills. What a cooking groove. Mel begins by playing brushes with Richard Davis cooking, and Roland Hanna tinkling, then the suspenseful intensity increases as Mel finally goes to sticks. You might notice his ride cymbal famous among drummers for its unique sound. Note the ensemble plays so tightly they actually sound as one instrument. Then another great piano trio section, another great Joe Farrell solo, Eddie Blackwell on clarinet without piano, then a bari-sax solo (a tough instrument). And to have a bass solo be so good amidst a BB. So much interesting stuff with this band.
Steven Feifke Big Band featuring Chad Lefkowitz-Brown – Caravan
This tune was a classic from the Ellington BB but given a completely new twist. You will want to check out more of Feifke’s work. And this new tenor player is killin’ it.
Steven Feifke Big Band featuring Chad Lefkowitz-Brown – My Favorite Things
Another by this band live and a totally different version of My Favorite Things than we are used to. There is too much here to point out; the guitar accompaniment at the beginning – the interesting trumpet solos, the kicking tenor solo; the interlude with drums with a repeated section first with piano, then band sections.
Chad LB Virtual Big Band – Giant Steps
Check out the wild tenor and drums intro. The writing, the ensemble, the reharmonization are superb and all done virtually. But there is no reason why it cannot be done with modern technology as illustrated here, when everyone is “on the same page.” After all, in the studio instruments are often separated by acoustic dividers and the performers wear earphones.
Arturo Sandival -- Guarachondo
This is a wonderful small big-band and has a lot of interesting aspects. First comes trombone, then great tenor, then piano, then Latin rhythm, then the ensemble. I’ll let the music speak for itself.