Here's your trivia question for today: Who was the third man to be elected to Downbeat Magazine's
Hall of Fame, the year before Duke Ellington? You guessed right if you said Stan Kenton.
Contemporary Concepts was recorded in July of 1955, and it offers six standards arranged by Bill Holman and one by Gerry Mulligan. The Mulligan chart, "Limelight," is easily recognizable and prefigures his work for his Concert Jazz Band five years later.
There is no room for a canary on any of Holman's six works. In each case, the melody is strongly hinted at with brief passages quoted from time to time. The solos by Bill Perkins (particularly on "Yesterdays"), Charlie Mariano, Lennie Niehaus and Carl Fontana (among others) are uniformly excellent. (As I write, the world mourns the recent passing of Bill Perkins.) Most noteworthy, however, is the propulsion provided by the arrangements and by the drumming of Mel Lewis. This brassy, swinging sound was borrowed eleven years later by Buddy Rich's Pacific Jazz band.
Four bonus tracks are unnecessary but welcome additions. The first, "Sunset Tower," was arranged by Stan Kenton and is reminiscent of his forties sound. The liner notes call it a reworking of his 1950 "Something New." The final three tracks were arranged by Gene Roland in the attempt to provide Stan with a radio hit. The smooth sound of these is a clear forerunner of Henry Mancini's 1959 Peter Gunn soundtrack.
This is not an album for the casual listener. Holman's charts are too thought-provoking. But those who already consider themselves jazz fans – not to mention Kenton fans – will quite likely find Contemporary Concepts a delightful treat.
Personnel: Al Porcino, Sam Noto, Stu Williamson, Bob Clark (trumpets);
Bob Fitzpatrick, Carl Fontana, Gus Chappell, Kent Larsen (trombones);
Don Kelly (bass trombone);
Bill Perkins, Dave Van Kriedt (tenor saxophones);
Don Davidson (baritone saxophone);
Stan Kenton (piano);
Max Bennett (bass);
Mel Lewis (drums).