By 1957, the Big Band Era was pretty well over. Fortunately pianist Stan Kenton never got the message. In fact, he continued to tour with various aggregations well into the ‘70s, ultimately laying the groundwork for modern jazz education with school performances and clinics.
While the handwriting may have been on the wall in the late ‘50s, there was still a large segment of the listening public that, having grown up on big bands, still loved the sound of a roaring brass section and tightly arranged saxophones. Stan Kenton offered them that, with the emphassis on the roaring. Capitol Records was still very much the purveyer of what could best be termed “adult popular music,” having not yet struck gold in the teen market with the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The grist for their mill was Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, and of course, Stan Kenton.
Kenton’s Back to Balboa is the documentation of a brief but unprofitable residence at the Rendevous Ballroom in Balboa, California in the winter of ‘57-'58. It shows the band in typical form, with fine arrangements by Johnny Richards, Marty Paich and Bill Holman. As always, the section men and soloists are first rate. One need only look at the personnel of this album to realize the caliber of Kenton’s players. Tenor saxophonists Bill Perkins and Richie Kamuca and alto saxophonist Lennie Niehaus contribute fine solos, as does trumpeter Sam Noto.
The album is rich in Latin rhythms, with Cuban-themed charts that Kenton loved to feature. Richards turns “Out of this World” and “Speak Low” into numbers worthy of old Havana.
A Kenton brass section could not only break glass, it could melt steel as well. You occasionally get samples of that on this album. In fact, if you want to hear where trumpeter Maynard Ferguson got the inspiration for his big bands, you need go no further than his former employer, Kenton.
With his own mail order Mosaic label, reissue producer Michael Cuscuna is the man responsible for some of the best gems mined from the EMI-Capitol-Blue Note vaults, and he wisely doesn’t tinker with anything here either, except to add four bonus tracks—three from arranger Joe Coccia and one from Kenton—to round out the album. Interestingly, Cuscuna opted for mono master tapes rather than the different stereo ones because, as he said, the soloists all sounded off-mic in the Rendevous’ echo chamber acoustics. Capitol originally issued only the mono versions, and Cuscuna sticks with their choice. Aided by modern digital remastering technology, the reissue obviously benefits from their judgement.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Track Listing: 1. The Big Chase (Paich) - 4:17
2. Rendezvous at Sunset (Richards) - 4:17
3. Speak Low (Nash/Weill) - 3:28
4. My Old Flame (Coslow/Johnston) - 4:02
5. Out of This World (Arlen/Mercer) - 5:44
6. Begin the Beguine (Porter) - 3:41
7. Get Out of Town (Porter) - 2:38
8. Royal Blue (Holman) - 5:52
9. I Concentrate on You (Porter) - 3:21
10. Beyond the Blue Horizon (Harling/Robin/Whiting) - 3:35
11. Two Shades of Autumn (Coccia) - 3:54
12. Love Letters (Heyman/Young) - 2:26
13. Desiderata (Coccia) - 3:11
14. Artistry in Blues (Kenton) - 2:45
Personnel: Richie Kamuca - Tenor Sax;
Stan Kenton - Piano;
Bill Perkins - Tenor Sax;
Lee Katzman - Trumpet;
Sam Noto - Trumpet;
Lennie Niehaus - Alto Sax;
Bill Catalano - Trumpet;
Jules Chaiken - Trumpet;
Bob Fitzpatrick - Trombone;
Phil Gilbert - Trumpet;
Joe "Red" Kelly - Bass;
Kent Larsen - Trombone;
Archie LeCoQue - Trombone;
Stephen Perlow - Baritone Sax;
Don Reed - Trombone;
Kenny Shroyer - Bass Trombone;
Vincent DeRosa - French Horn;
Jerry McKenzie - Drums;
Jim Amlotte - Trombone;
Jimmy Deckker - French Horn.