When one thinks of drummer Buddy Rich what comes to mind, first and foremost, are impressions of a brash personality and an even more outgoing drumming style. And while it is true that the majority of Rich's output with his various big bands falls in the camp of extroversion with bold, bright virtuoso playing, equally impressive was the fact that, without the ability to read or notate music, he was able to commit complex arrangements to memory. Live at the 1982 Montreal Jazz Festival
is a welcome DVD issue of L'Equipe Spector's recording for television, and proves that even at the age of sixty-five and five short years before his death in '87, Rich still was still capable of leading an impeccably flawless big band through a series of remarkably difficult charts that, quite simply, defined the term swing.
It is astounding to watch Rich who, while his ensemble was reading charts off the bandstand, had these complex, often lengthy arrangements completely memorized and so well assimilated that he was able to interpret them with a daring sense of adventure that made each performance an exhilarating experience. His signature "West Side Story Medley," arranged by Bill Reddie, is as good an example as any, with twists and turns, shots and accents that would leave most reading musicians quaking in their boots. But while Rich was a notoriously difficult personality, he chose his band members well, and the unerring execution by the entire big band is not only something to hear, on this DVD it is a sight to see. It's no surprise, after watching this hour-long performance, that Rich's band was considered by many to be the ultimate road test, and the best music school available.
The DVD features a number of remarkable arrangements by Joe Roccisano ("Hookin' It" and "Brush Strokes"), Keith Bishop ("If You Could See Me Now"), Bob Mintzer ("Good News") and Don Menza ("Time Check"). To understand how important an arranger is in the creation of the final result, one only has to look as far as this DVD.
The shame is that there are no credits, anywhere on the DVD, that list the personnel, as there are some fine tenor and alto saxophone solos, and some impressive trumpet work as well. But the reality is that this is Rich's show, and he was never known for giving the credit due his band, as talented as they were. Being in the band was thanks enough, and it is clear that throughout the programme, which includes "Brush Strokes," a rare chance to hear Rich on brushes, the band is committed and completely engaged - and with charts this difficult how could they not be?
Drummers will get plenty of opportunity to watch Rich in action, as the camerawork definitely favours him without forgetting that this is, indeed, a band. The sound and picture quality are good for the time, with every note clear and distinct, and the images sharp. As a bonus feature Hudson Music saw fit to add a rare '72 performance of "Green Dolphin Street," which finds Rich great form, delivering a staggering solo that explains why most jazz drummers have spent at least some time studying his style.
Rich may not have been the easiest person to work with, but in the course of his fifty-year career he did much to live up to his billing as "World's Greatest Drummer." Still, as filled as it certainly is with exceptional playing from Rich, both as a soloist and perhaps even more importantly as an ensemble player, Live at the 1982 Montreal Jazz Festival is even more notable for his remarkable abilities as an arranger, and for his staggering capacity to absorb and interpret charts that would challenge the most astute reader. Arguably the best footage of Rich available, this is a must-have for aspiring drummers and a thoroughly captivating watch for non-players alike.
Note that the DVD comes with a bonus CD of the entire Montreal Jazz Festival performance.
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Track Listing: Hookin' It; Brush Strokes; If They Could See Me Now; Good News; West Side Story Medley; Carioca; Time Check; Green Dolphin Street (Bonus Clip)
Personnel Listing (obtained from Hudson Music Website):
Trumpets: Dave Stahl, Doug Clark, Chris Pasin, John Harbaugh
Trombones: Peter Enblom, Ken Crane, Pete Beltran
Saxophones: Steve Marcus, Mike Smith, Andy Fusco, Walt Weiskopf, Keith Bishop
Piano: Lee Musiker
Bass: Mike Boone