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Stan Kenton Orchestra / BYU Synthesis Big Band: A Kenton Celebration

Jack Bowers By

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Fasten your seat belts, Kenton fans. Just when you feared the once-overflowing wellspring of material from the Stan Kenton Orchestra's archives may have run dry, along comes Tantara Productions with this jet-propelled and emphatically pleasurable two-disc set, the first half of which reclaims a long-lost concert date recorded in February 1959 at Brigham Young University, a dozen years before another concert at the Provo, Utah, campus was safeguarded on the album Live at Brigham Young University. The second half of this Kenton Celebration showcases the impressive BYU Synthesis Big Band from 2014-16 breathing fresh life into twenty remarkably durable themes from the Kenton library that were never recorded in a studio by Stan and in fact were seldom even heard live during the orchestra's heyday.

Late 1958 and early 1959 was indeed a busy time for the ever-touring Kenton Orchestra. The concert at BYU was only five days removed from its having recorded Live from the Las Vegas Tropicana and less than four months away from two of Kenton's more memorable in-concert albums, Road Band! and Live at Keesler Air Force Base, recorded in October and November '58. As might be expected, there is some overlap, with several of the charts from those earlier albums restated here, albeit with fresh solos and varying intensity. The orchestra opens with Bill Holman's "Theme and Variations" and "Kingfish," as it did at Keesler, and includes the venerable "Intermission Riff" and Marty Paich's "The Big Chase" from that earlier concert, Paich's arrangement of "My Old Flame" from Road Band! (which was recorded at Chicago's Holiday Ballroom) and a pair of standards, "This Is Always" and "It's All Right with Me" from the Tropicana concert.

The concert at BYU does not encompass the whole of Disc 1, as it includes a pair of songs ("This Is Always," "Frenesi") taped four months later at the Red Hill Inn in Pennsauken, NJ. Even though the personnel remains essentially unchanged from BYU and the earlier albums already named, drummer Jerry McKenzie was replaced on the Jersey date by Jerry (Lestock) McKenzie (or Jerry McKenzie II, as he is sometimes called) and bassist Red Kelly by Carson Smith. Charlie Mariano, John Bonnie and Jack Nimitz had joined the reed section, replacing Lennie Niehaus, Richie Kamuca and Sture Swenson. Bill Mathieu's lovely arrangement of "This Is Always" is a vehicle for the orchestra's other baritone saxophonist, Billy Root, while Nimitz and trombonist Kent Larsen share the honors on "Frenesi," also arranged by Mathieu.

Back at BYU, Pete Rugolo wrote and arranged the sumptuous "Interlude" (for trombones and rhythm) and scored Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" in a Latin vein, while Holman arranged "Stella by Starlight" and Gene Roland "It's All Right with Me," both of which showcase Niehaus' nimble alto saxophone. Crowning the concert are the Kenton staple "The Peanut Vendor" and the orchestra's familiar closing theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," after which Kenton offers brief closing remarks, letting the audience know the orchestra was playing a dance date later that evening. Other soloists at BYU are Kamuca, Larsen, trumpeter Jack Sheldon, tenor Bill Trujillo and trombonist Archie LeCoque. Although Trujillo is listed as a soloist on "Intermission Riff," the opinion here is that it's Kamuca.

On Disc 2, the BYU ensemble from 2014-15 deftly weaves its way through fifteen regrettably unsung Kenton-related themes, with five more reprised by its successor from 2015-16. The recordings were made at De Jong Concert Hall in the Harris Fine Arts Center, the same venue that produced Live at Brigham Young University. Rugolo figures prominently as composer of seven selections and arranger of an even dozen. Robert Graettinger, best known for his convention-shattering "City of Glass," arranged the standards "September Song," "Laura" and "April in Paris" and composed and arranged the not-at-all radical "Molshoaro." "Sahara" was written and arranged by Neal Hefti, while Joe Coccia arranged "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me," Roland "If I Had You."

Director Ray Smith had his undergrads primed and ready for the Kenton salute, and it's clear that a fair amount of rehearsal time must have preceded their visit to the studio. The Kenton sound and temperament are diligently recreated, giving rise to an inescapable impression that "this is surely how Stan might have played them." Soloists have found a congenial groove as well, and several excel on their feature numbers: tenor saxophonists Kevin Miller ("Opus a la Kenton") and Derek Crane ("The Firebird Jumps"), alto Justin Hammer (Rugolo's "Pepper Pot," presumably written for Art Pepper) and trombonist Brian Woodbury ("Molshoaro" and Rugolo's lustrous "Song for Trombone"). Others who raise their eloquent voices are trumpeters Shane McQuarrie, Austie Robinson and Lisa Christensen, alto Jory Woodis, tenor Jordan Widdison, trombonists Brennan Brown and McKay Heaton, clarinetist Steven Hardy and pianists Jacob Potter and Nick Wagstaff.

So historic is this Kenton Celebration that each component has its own Kenton scholar writing liner notes: Michael Sparke (Disc 1) and Terry Vosbein (Disc 2). Needless to say, their observations are comprehensive and informative. Although the music on Disc 1 is for the most part familiar, that cannot minimize its significance within the capacious Kenton archive, which may indeed be nearing its outer limits. Whenever a tantalizing concert such as that on Disc 1 is redeemed from obscurity, the only suitable response is to celebrate. In this case, however, not one but two celebrations are in order, as Disc 2 is a revelation: twenty rarely heard compositions and arrangements by the likes of Pete Rugolo, Bob Graettinger, Joe Coccia and even Neal Hefti, marvelously performed by the BYU Synthesis Big Band in state-of-the-art sound. Red-letter day? For fans of Stan Kenton, more like an unforeseen yet priceless gold strike.

Track Listing: Disc 1 – Theme and Variations; Kingfish; My Old Flame; The Big Chase; Interlude; Love for Sale; Intermission Riff; This Is Always; The Peanut Vendor; Stella by Starlight; It’s All Right with Me; Frenesi; Artistry in Rhythm; Stan’s Closing Remarks. Disc 2 – You Go to My Head; Opus a la Kenton; Pepper Pot; You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me; June’s Bop; Hollywood Turmoil; Song for Trombone; Riffin’ Around; Opus 69; Blue Moon; September Song; Laura; April in Paris; Molshoaro; Weird Dreams; If I Had You; The Firebird Jumps; I’ll Never Be the Same; Sahara; Temptation.

Personnel: Disc 1: The Stan Kenton Orchestra: Brigham Young University, February 7, 1959 – Stan Kenton: leader, piano; Frank Huggins: trumpet; Bud Brisbois: trumpet; Jack Sheldon: trumpet; Joe Burnett: trumpet; Roger Middleton: trumpet; Lennie Niehaus: alto sax; Bill Trujillo: tenor sax; Richie Kamuca: tenor sax; Billy Root: baritone sax; Sture Swenson: baritone sax; Archie LeCoque: trombone; Kent Larsen: trombone; Jim Amlotte: trombone; Bob Olson: bass trombone; Bill Smiley: bass trombone; Red Kelly: bass; Jerry McKenzie: drums. Red Hill Inn, Pennsauken, NJ, June 11-12, 1959 (tracks 8, 12) – Charlie Mariano: alto sax, replaces Niehaus; John Bonnie: tenor sax, replaces Kamuca; Billy Root: baritone sax; Jack Nimitz: baritone sax (Olson, Swenson out); Jim Amlotte: bass trombone; Bobby Knight: bass trombone (Olson, Smiley out); Carson Smith: bass, replaces Kelly; Jerry (Lestock) McKenzie: drums, replaces Jerry McKenzie; add Mike Pacheco: Latin percussion. Disc 2: BYU Synthesis Big Band 2014-15 (tracks 1-3, 5-7, 11-15, 17-20) – Ray Smith: director; Shane McQuarrie: trumpet; Austie Robinson: trumpet; Dallas Crane: trumpet; Lisa Christensen: trumpet; Jordan Coon: trumpet; Rachel Havens Baker: trumpet; Justin Hammer: alto sax, clarinet; Jordan Widdison: alto sax, clarinet; Kevin Miller: tenor sax, clarinet; Derek Crane: tenor sax, clarinet; Kyle Miller: baritone sax, clarinet; Brian Woodbury: trombone; Brennan Brown: trombone; Danny Burt: trombone; McKay Heaton: trombone; Ricky Lyman: bass trombone; Jacob Potter: piano; Parker Speirs: guitar; Zoe Jorgensen: bass; Jesse Quebbeman-Turley: drums; Christina Hurlbut: tympani; Hayley Kirkland: vocal (5). BYU SBB 2015-16 (tracks 4, 8-10, 16) – Ray Smith: director; Austie Robinson: trumpet; Daniel Welch: trumpet; Dallas Crane: trumpet; Jordan Coon: trumpet; Abby Castleton: trumpet; Steven Hardy: alto sax, clarinet; Brittney Woodis: alto sax; Jory Woodis: alto sax; Jordan Widdison: tenor sax; Andrew Larson: tenor sax; Jacob Baldwin: baritone sax; Brian Woodbury: trombone; Danny Burt: trombone; Brennan Brown: trombone; McKay Heaton: trombone; Lyman McBride: bass trombone; Nick Wagstaff: piano; Parker Speirs: guitar; Zoe Jorgensen: bass; Brennan Tolman: drums.

Title: A Kenton Celebration | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Tantara


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