In a recording career that's spanned more than half a century, the masterful vibraphonist Milt Jackson has seldom been less than flawless. For Explosive!, his fifth disc on Quincy Jones's well-distributed Qwest label, Jackson is suitably teamed with the well-populated Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. It too, is no exception; offering a sterling collection of Jackson's pleasing blend of blues and ballads.
Jackson has only recorded with big bands on a surprisingly infrequent basis (his Verve recordings with Ray Brown, two dates from the early 1960s on Riverside and some work in the late 70s with Count Basie's band come to mind). But he has plenty of connections to this music. Helmsman arranger/bassist John Clayton studied with Jackson's soul mate and frequent musical sparring partner, Ray Brown. Clayton has also served a rewarding apprenticeship in Basie's band and his tasteful, swinging arrangements recall the brassy soulfulness Quincy Jones offered to many a Basie session (and plenty others like Ray Charles too).
So Milt's at home here still swinging like he did back in the Forties (consider how he enlivens Monk's "Evidence" here and recall the vibraphonist was heard on the original all those years ago). If there's any gripe - and it's a true quibble - it's that Jackson seems like a guest on his own session. He swings in between the more dominating orchestra (with exceptional offerings from reedman Jeff Clayton, trumpeter Snooky Young and trombonist George Bohanon) and even sits out of "Deed I Do" and "The Nearness of You" altogether. But, as expected, he's above reproach and completely in charge of "Major Deegan," the inevitable "Bag's Groove," and the newer originals, "Revibal Meeting" and "Recovery."
Explosive! could have been recorded in the late Fifties, at a time when jazz orchestras like this flourished. Today, it's positively out of the ordinary to hear a big star front a (real) big band. But it shows how ageless and timeless the concept is when it's done right as it is here.
Songs:Bags' Groove; Since I Fell For You; Evidence; Back Home Again In Indiana; 'Deed I Do; The Nearness Of You; Major Deagan (Blues For Dan); Emily; Along Came Betty; Revibal Meeting; Recovery.
Players:Milt Jackson: vibes; John Clayton, Jr.: arco bass; Jeff Hamilton: drums; Jeff Clayton: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Byron Stripling, Eugene "Snooky" Young, Oscar Brasher, Clay Jenkins, Bobby Rodriguez: trumpet; Ira Nepus, George Bohanon, Isaac Smith: trombone; Maurice Spears: bass trombone; Keith Fiddmont: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Ricky Woodward, Charles Owens: tenor sax, clarinet; Lee Callet: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Bill Cunliffe: piano; Christoph Luty: bass; Jim Hershman: guitar.