Billy Taylor Orchestra Jazzy Soundtracks 3: Kwamina
Continuing our look into soundtrack albums of a jazz nature, we depart this month from film scores to take a look at a jazz interpretation of music from a Broadway production. Opening in October of 1961 and running for a mere 32 performances, Kwamina takes place in West Africa in a British colony where a young woman doctor runs into trouble when she falls in love with a local black physician whose name gives the play its title. The cast of the production included Robert Guillaume, Brock Peters, Sally Anne Howes, and Terry Carter, with percussionists Montego Joe and Robert Crowder even taking part in the festivities.
Nominated for a Tony Award for best score, ultimately losing out to Richard Rodgers' No Strings , Richard Alder's music served as inspiration for pianist Billy Taylor's interpretation on the 1962 Mercury album The Original Jazz Score of Kwamina. Somewhat of a rarity these days, this album should have been even more successful than the show itself, but somehow got lost in the shuffle. Picking out nine pieces from the score's original fourteen, Taylor and arranger Jimmy Jones created charts for a large ensemble including Clark Terry, Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Wess, Phil Woods, Jerome Richardson, Julius Watkins, George Duvivier, Les Spann, and Osie Johnson.
Although all the tracks are somewhat brief, each one speaks with its own voice and tempo, allowing for adequate solo space for Taylor and most notably Phil Woods. "Something Big" is easily the most enjoyable of the lot, with it's vamp akin to "Old Devil Moon" and some bristling trumpet work from Clark Terry. "Ordinary People" also gives Wood a brief time to shine during a lush ballad feature. Guitarist Les Spann even gets a chance to say a note or two on the perky "Another Time, Another Place."
In general, not much has really been written about Billy Taylor's recordings, his work in education and other jazz related works somewhat overshadowing his past endeavors. Kwamina definitely deserves to be mentioned among his better works and fans of studio big bands will unlikely be thrilled to hear the superb stereo mix on this one. Although the show may be long forgotten, Taylor's jazz score is ripe for rediscovery.