Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra: The Definitive Thad Jones (2010)
Recorded in 1988, over two decades after the creation of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and a decade after Jones left the band, this is also its last recording under Lewis' helm (he died two years later, 20 years ago in February, 2010). As such, it reflects Lewis' concept as well as his and the band's adaptations of Jones' charts. The instrumentation is also different than both the early incarnation and today's Vanguard Jazz Orchestrathe brass including two bass trombones and French horn. The two CDs include two LPs originally done for MusicMasters, the second released after Lewis' death.
Although these are vintage charts, some hearkening back to Jones' tenure with Count Basie and one, "Quietude," originally written for Buddy DeFranco and the Glenn Miller Orchestra (although sans any clarinet here), they had evolved in the intervening years. "Little Pixie," taken to the outer limits of big band tempo and velocity, is a perfect demonstration of what Lewis called "[our] unique style of playing with this band I call Bird style." Another piece that picked up speed and more bop-ish bounce under Lewis is "Cherry Juice," with its raffish saxophones theme contrasted with Jones' trademark, astringent-toward-dissonant punchy brass and long solos (Jim Powell, flugelhorn; Joe Lovano, tenor sax; Kenny Werner, piano) that begin like a loose quartet before full band jabs and fills kick in. During "Three in One," another long showcase for three bass clef soloists (John Mosca, trombone; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Dennis Irwin, bass), Lewis' accents, unlike most big band drummers power plays, are as likely to be a cymbal echoing the lead trumpet. His playing behind soloists (here and throughout) emphasizes subtlety over pizzazz.
Two of the pieces here were written for an album the band made for Verve, backing an organist, Rhoda Scott in New York, in 1976; one of them, a rare, conventional AABA song form from Jones, "Rhoda Map," is still a band favorite. The other, "Walkin' About," shows how this band put its own stamp on a tribute to Count Basie. Also, for a unique approach to a sax section theme in a Basie vein, don't miss Earl Gardner's thumb-in-cheek-popping-along on "Tip Toe," also featuring low brass soli and a taste of Lewis' soft sticks-on-drum heads (he insisted on skins) approach. It is Lewis' understated, highly personal style at the traps that makes this album so unmistakably the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.
Track Listing: Low Down; Quietude; Three in One; Walkin' About; Second Race; Tip Toe; Don't Get Sassy; Rhoda Map; Cherry Juice.
Personnel: Mel Lewis: drums; Kenny Werner: piano; Dennis Irwin: bass; Dick Oatts: Ted Nash: alto and soprano sax; Joe Lovano and Ralph Lalama: tenor sax; Gary Smulyan: baritone sax; John Mosca and Ed Neumeister: trombones; Douglas Purviance and Earl McIntyre: bass trombone; Earl Gardner: Joe Mosello: Glenn Drewes: Jim Powell: trumpets; Stephanie Fauber: french horn.