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Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra: The Definitive Thad Jones (2010)

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Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra: The Definitive Thad Jones No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Recorded in 1988, over two decades after the creation of the Thad Jones
Thad Jones
Thad Jones
1923 - 1986
trumpet
/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 Orchestra—the 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
Buddy DeFranco
Buddy DeFranco
b.1923
clarinet
and the Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
1904 - 1944
trombone
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 (Jimmie Powell
Jimmie Powell
b.1914
, flugelhorn; Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, tenor sax; Kenny Werner
Kenny Werner
Kenny Werner
b.1951
piano
, 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
Gary Smulyan
Gary Smulyan
b.1956
sax, baritone
, baritone sax; Dennis Irwin
Dennis Irwin
Dennis Irwin
1951 - 2008
bass
, 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
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
. 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.

Record Label: Nimbus

Style: Big Band


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