In case one harbors any doubt about the kind of big–band Jazz championed by Toshiyuki Miyama’s Tokyo–based ensemble, the phrase “New Herd” should be a dead giveaway. The band is forged in the swaggering image of Woody Herman’s legendary Thundering Herds, an imprint that is quickly borne out on these two discs, recorded in 1974 and ’75, respectively. New Herd
was produced in a Tokyo studio in September ’74 to commemorate the band’s well–received performance that year at the Monterey Jazz Festival; “A” Train,
completed the following May (in the same studio but with an audience), has been reissued on CD to mark the centenary in April ’99 of Duke Ellington’s birth. Unfortunately, as both began life as vinyl LPs, their combined playing time (84:08) is only modestly beyond the limits of a single compact disc. The similarity to Herman is indelibly etched on “Donna Lee” and “Sniper’s Snoose,” the buoyant swingers that open New Herd.
Woody would’ve loved ‘em, and so would Buddy Rich, as drummer Isao Yomoda is clearly one of his ardent disciples. The tempo (but not the intensity) slows for “Furisode” and “Kappa Shijo” before Chick Corea’s mercurial “La Fiesta” (with a galvanizing solo courtesy of pianist Kiyoshi Takano) and the New Herd’s theme song wrap up a brief but consistently rewarding session. The character of the second disc, as one would reasonably expect from a concert devoted to Ellington, is quite different, with subdued pastels replacing the more flamboyant colors espoused by Herman. “Mood Indigo” and “Sentimental Mood” are as seductive as one could want, with wonderful solos by Takano and alto saxophonist Koji Suzuki on “Indigo,” trombonist Osamo Shiamura on “Mood.” The title selection, whose dynamic arrangement by guitarist KozaburoYamaki is based on Betty Roché’s well–known vocal, ends the “Ellington segment” of the concert, and the Herd completes the program with Yamaki’s pastoral “Country Blues” and an extended reading of Freddie Hubbard’s “Gibraltar.” While each of these discs is admirable in its own way, if pressed I’d give the nod to “A” Train
because of its longer playing time, picturesque charts and enterprising solos. But either one is recommended.
Track listing: New Herd — Theme; Donna Lee; Sniper’s Snoose; Furisode (A Long–Sleeved Kimono); Kappa Shijo (A Poetic Sentiment for a Kappa); La Fiesta; Theme (36:00). “A” Train — Mood Indigo; In a Sentimental Mood; Take the “A” Train; Country Blues; Gibraltar (48:08).