The Way: Music of Slide Hampton: Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (2004)
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The union of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (VJO) and Slide Hampton is a match made in jazz heaven. The VJO, a sixteen-piece musical organization—the term big band has never been an official assignation for the group—that has been performing on Monday nights at the Village Vanguard for nearly 40 years, remains one of the most vibrant and distinctive larger groups. Founded under the co-leadership of trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis, the band blended the influences of the former’s Basie background and the latter’s Kentonian experience into a unit in which both harmony and rhythm were of paramount importance. Trombonist Hampton, one of the few great true jazz arrangers, is a veteran of the Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman organizations who led an impressive succession of octets in the ‘60s and is perhaps best known as the leader of his own World of Trombones and the organizer of the Dizzy Gillespie tribute band The Jazz Masters.
Hampton played with an early incarnation of the orchestra in the ‘70s, when the band performed Jones’ own compositions and arrangements almost exclusively, and learned much from the trumpeter/cornetist. For this date the trombonist composed and arranged his own music in the tradition of the band, complete with beautiful overtures and codas, so that the VJO’s distinct sound remains intact while the music unmistakeably evokes Hampton’s personality. The complex compositions and intricate horn arrangements are clearly the focal point of the record, but there is much room set aside for statements by the superior soloists and unfailingly swinging rhythm section. The opening “You Asked For It” gets directly to that point with straight-ahead outings by Dick Oatts, John Mosca and Jim McNeely. “Inspiration—Suite For Jazz Orchestra,” the date’s most ambitious commission, is a four movement piece inspired by John Coltrane, that explores a “Giant Steps”-derived theme in styles that pay homage to Jones, Billy Strayhorn, Gil Evans and Tadd Dameron.
Another suite, “Past, Present and Future,” and the title track follow in much the same manner—mixing polyphonous and contrapuntal orchestral sections with excellent solos. The date concludes with a new arrangement of Hampton’s classic “Frame For The Blues,” with the composer stepping out front briefly on bass trombone before moving aside for Jason Jackson’s trombone and Dennis Irwin’s bass. Space doesn’t permit the listing of all the fine musicians in the group, but be sure that each contributes greatly to the overall success of the outstanding music. If you haven’t heard the VJO in a while, check out this disc or go down to the Vanguard and hear them for real.
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This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Track Listing: 1. You Asked For It 8:39 INSPIRATION - Suite for Jazz Orchestra (Inspired by John Coltrane) 2. Part l: One For Thad 6:
02 3. Part ll: Strayhorn 5:18 4. Part lll: Gil 7:05 5. Part lV: Dameron 9:00 6. Past Present & Future 9:55 7. The Way 7:
30 8. Frame for The Blues 9:20
Personnel: Trumpets: Earl Gardner (Lead), Joe Mosello, Glenn Drewes, Scott Wendholt, Trombones: John Mosca (Lead), Luis
Bonilla, Jason Jackson, Douglas Purviance (bass trombone) Reeds: Dick Oatts (Lead alto and soprano saxophones,
flute), Billy Drewes (alto and soprano saxophones, flute, bass clarinet), Rich Perry (Tenor saxophone, flute), Ralph
Lalama (Tenor saxophone, clarinet), Gary Smulyan (Baritone saxophone, bass clarinet) Rhythm Section: Jim McNeely-
piano, John Riley-drums, Dennis Irwin-bass Additional Trumpet/Flugelhorn parts played by Frank Greene
Record Label: Planet Arts
Style: Big Band