The two albums on this CD reissue from Vocalion were recorded during trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's "English period (1968-72). It was a time when Ferguson was trying a number of new things, some of which worked, and some of which didn't. The first eight tracks are from MF Horn 2
, the others from The Ballad Style of Maynard Ferguson
As one can readily hear on MF Horn, Ferguson had turned away from more traditional jazz and popular standards and toward such more recent pop songs as James Taylor's "Country Road, John Lennon's "Mother, Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft, David Clayton-Thomas' "Spinning Wheel and Lennon/McCartney's "Hey Jude. I have no problem with that, and there's no doubting the power or proficiency of Ferguson's ensemble, which was comprised of top-notch British musicians.
The problem I have with the album, as true with the reissue as it was with the initial release more than three decades ago, is the sound. For some reason, perhaps to accentuate the band's muscularity, reverb has been greatly over-used, lending the enterprise an unpleasant echo-chamber effect. On top of that, Ferguson and the other soloists are often short-changed, sounding at times as though they were playing in a nearby room.
The overall balance is definitely weighted toward the rhythm section at the expense of brass and reeds, and toward both at the expense of soloists, especially at faster tempos (it's not quite as conspicuous, for example, on Michel Legrand's ballad, "The Summer Knows ). If you can clear that hurdle, you should find MF Horn 2 generally rewarding (in spite of the vulgar vocal shenanigans and over-the-top coda on "Hey Jude ).
Sonically, The Ballad Style offers more of the sameFerguson's over-brightened trumpet, encompassed on this occasion by a string orchestra conducted by Keith Mansfield. The album is all but devoid of improvisation, as Ferguson plays mostly the melodies while the strings provide the backdrop. There are some mandatory high notes, but not as many as one might anticipate.
There's a version of "Maria from West Side Story, but the ones performed with Ferguson's own band are more gratifying. Most of the other themes are quite familiar, from "Born Free and "Girl Talk to "The Impossible Dream, "As Long as He Needs Me, Lennon/McCartney's "The Fool on the Hill and Paul Simon's "The Sound of Silence. Mansfield's arrangements are bland and syrupy, and Ferguson hardly works up a sweat. Innocuous background music for elevators or waiting rooms.