Composer Morgan Powell’s music reminds this listener of some of the more radical charts written years ago for the Stan Kenton Orchestra by Pete Rugolo or the almost–forgotten Bob Graettinger. Powell, a graduate of North Texas State University’s renowned Jazz Studies program, has long sought to transpose his interests in Jazz and classical music into an original and more comprehensive milieu, which he has to some extent accomplished on this album with help from trumpeter, longtime friend and fellow NTSU grad Thomas Shabda Noor. Noor conducts the University of Illinois Jazz Band on three selections and solos on a fourth, “Reflections,” which Powell dedicated to him. Powell’s musical philosophy is perhaps best characterized by the title of the album’s climactic work, “Free Solo, Big Band Style.” Not only are the brass and reeds wantonly out of control for the first two minutes or more, but someone (perhaps Noor) can be heard shouting encouragement (or, more optimistically, perhaps it’s a wayfaring music–lover pleading for mercy). Pianist Jim McNeely, in one of several laudatory notes (others are by trumpeter Bobby Shew and Powell’s boyhood chum, writer Larry McMurtry), says Powell’s hybrid “represents the emergence of a truly American music . . .” Let us hope not. I must, however, agree with McNeely when he writes, “I find that I am constantly asking myself, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ when listening to [Powell’s] music.” I am also constantly asking myself, “Is it ever going to end?” “dafunkaMonkus,” performed by the six–member Tone Road Ramblers (including Powell on trombone), runs for more than nineteen minutes, “Light and Shadows” for more than seventeen, “Free Solo” for fifteen–plus, each one more painfully unsettling than the last. It’s a sure sign of disinterest when one finds himself looking forward to the intervals. As Bobby Shew writes, “No cocktail party music here.” No sir, Bobby. This is heavy material, suitable only for those with hardy ear canals and an ample tolerance for unmelodious ways of configuring sound.
Contact:Chicago Lakeside Jazz, P. O. Box 1952, Lombard, IL 60148 (phone 630–424–0801; fax 630–424–0806; web site, www.cljazz.com)
Track Listing: Volume XII; Reflections; dafunkaMonkus; All Gone; Light and Shadows; Free Solo, Big Band Style (72:15).
Personnel: Morgan Powell, composer, arranger; the University of Illinois Jazz Band, Thomas Shabda Noor, conductor, trumpet; John VanderGheynst, guest conductor; the University of Illinois Orchestra, Thomas Wisniewski, conductor; the Tone Road Ramblers