Sometimes it pays to be lucky. After searching in vain for a couple of hard–to–find albums from the mid–’70s by Tokyo–based Toshiyuki Miyama’s New Herd (see August big–band reviews), I went to the source — the affable Tee Fujii, proprietor of Three Blind Mice Records. Of course, he replied, he would be happy to send copies of both albums. And, he added, he would ship a third disc as well — Montreux Cyclone by Bingo Miki and the Inner Galaxy Orchestra. Terrific, I thought. That’s exactly what I need; an album of “otherworldly” music by another Sun Ra clone. How wrong can one be? Wrong enough, in this case, to offer Tee an apology for doubting him, and to inform whoever is reading this that not only is the 25–member Inner Galaxy Orchestra unlike Sun Ra or any other body in that firmament, it is an absolutely spectacular straight–ahead big band in the Basie/Herman/Kenton tradition performing (in concert at Montreux) superlative compositions and arrangements by Miki, Richard Davis, Jon Faddis, Bob Brookmeyer and Don Sebesky (Davis, Faddis and Brookmeyer sit in with the ensemble on their respective charts, while guitarist Joe Beck is showcased on Sebesky’s “Alcazar”). The album opens with Miki’s fabulous three–part suite, “Montreux Cyclone,” which encompasses impressive solos by flugel Hiroshi Abiko on Part 1 (“Old Sunshine”), drummer Yoshiyuki Nakamura, percussionist Tetsuya Furutani and tenor/flutist “Sleepy” Matsumato on Part 2 (“Cyclone from the East”) and pianist Masaru Imada on Part 3 (“In the Summer Shadow”). Matsumoto, on flute, mirrors closely the singular mannerisms of the legendary Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Track 4, “Pitter Pat,” is a chops–testing showcase for bassist Davis, while trumpeter Faddis steps front and center (and into the stratosphere) on his sumptuous ballad–cum–blazer, “Zylvia.” If Faddis is in top–notch form (and make no mistake, he is), valve trombonist Brookmeyer is equally sharp and masterful on “The First Love Song” (when he plays in the pocket, as he does here, Brookmeyer has few peers). After Beck’s dazzling voyage on “Alcazar,” Miki ends the concert with two more of his noteworthy compositions, “Merman’s Dance” (from the suite “Back to the Sea”) and a magnificent finale that almost succeeds in lowering everything that preceded it to the status of an hors d’oeuvre — an ultra–modern Jazz version of Jean Sibelius’ classic tone poem, “Finlandia,” enhanced by galvanizing ensemble passages and crisp solos by Nakamura, trumpeter Kenji Yoshida and clarinetist Masao Suzuki. Batten down the hatches; this Cyclone is a monster whose awesome intensity and power can blow you away.
Track listing: Suite “Montreux Cyclone”: Part 1, Old Sunshine. Part 2, Cyclone from the East. Part 3, In the Summer Shadow; Pitter Pat; Zylvia; The First Love Song; Alcazar; Merman’s Dance; Sibelius’ Testament (71:09).