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It has been 30 years to the month since this concert appearance by the Thad Jones–Mel Lewis Orchestra was recorded in Basle, Switzerland, and I’d guess that some of those who were lucky enough to be in the audience still remember the occasion fondly. Although the (unedited) sound on the CD is uneven at times, with some soloists playing off–mic or even bumping into it from time to time, the concert–goers assuredly got their money’s worth from this rip–roaring, rock ’em–sock ’em, no–holds–barred but always tasteful all–star ensemble led by the peerless composer/arranger/trumpeter Jones and the indefatigable drummer Lewis. One of the biggest problems Jones and Lewis must have faced was deciding who would solo, as everyone in the band was outstanding in that respect as well as in playing as a unit. Thad wrote four of the eight numbers — “Second Race,” “Don’t Ever Leave Me,” “The Waltz You Swang for Me,” “Don’t Get Sassy” — and arranged everything including Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” pianist Roland Hanna’s “Bible Story,” saxophonist Jerome Richardson’s “Groove Merchant” and brother Hank’s “A–That’s Freedom.” The prancing opener, “Second Race,” features the consistently inventive Hanna, trumpeter Richard Williams (muted) and tenor Joe Henderson, even then a veteran of many a brisk skirmish. Thad’s warm and underrated flugel takes center stage on his bossa “Don’t Ever Leave Me,” and Richardson’s lyrical soprano complements another in–the–pocket solo by Hanna on “The Waltz You Swang for Me.” Trombone maestro Jimmy Knepper is the man on the medium–tempo swinger “A–That’s Freedom,” while Thad is out front again on flugel on his lovely arrangement of “Come Sunday” with Adams’ gruff baritone making a brief but effective appearance. The orchestra turns up the heat on “Don’t Get Sassy” as Williams and Henderson deliver impressive solos to punctuate Lewis’s incendiary drumming, Richard Davis’s walking bass and blazing riffs by the ensemble. Hanna’s solo piece, “Bible Story,” gives everyone some well–earned breathing space before the rhythm section leads them into the funky finale, “Groove Merchant,” whose parting solo shots are delivered by Hanna and Davis before the ensemble returns to wrap up the package. And a fine–looking package it is.
Track listing: Second Race; Don’t Ever Leave Me; The Waltz You Swang for Me; A–That’s Freedom; Come Sunday; Don’t Get Sassy; Bible Story; Groove Merchant (67:46).
Thad Jones, trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger; Snooky Young, Al Porcino, Richard Williams, Danny Moore, trumpets; Eddie Bert, Jimmy Knepper, Cliff Heather, Ashley Fannell, trombones; Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Joe Henderson, Eddie Daniels, Pepper Adams, saxophones; Roland Hanna, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Mel Lewis, drums.
Contact: TCB Music, route Cantonale 103, 1025 Saint