1969 was a year of transition for Stan Kenton
and his orchestra, one in which Kenton's long-term contract with Capitol Records was ended, which led in turn to the establishment of his own label, Creative World. The orchestra itself remained active, motoring back and forth to one-night stands and brief engagements in various locales. What it did not
do was enter a studio to produce a lasting narrative of its prowess. Luckily, a blemish-free tape of one of the orchestra's sundry night-club engagements, at the Golden Lion in Dayton, Ohio, has survived the inroads of time to make an electrifying "debut" some forty-five years after the fact.
Not only does Kenton Roars!
serve as a gateway to Kenton's splendid road orchestras of the early to mid-70s, it introduces big-band enthusiasts to the uncommon maturity and talents of a young trumpeter fresh from Stanford University, 23-year-old Tom Harrell
, who is featured on no less than seven of the album's eleven numbers (Kenton always appreciated brilliance whenever it crossed his path). Harrell is first heard on one of the more unlikely vehicles for a jazz orchestra, Ralph Carmichael
's tasteful arrangement of "Sodomy" from the Broadway musical Hair
(and Kenton's ill-advised Capitol album of that name). Harrell is impressive there, as he is later on Willie Maiden
's "A Little Minor Booze," Bill Holman
's definitive arrangements of "Tico Tico" (warp speed) and "Granada," Don Piestrup's rhythmic "Dance," the lovely standard "My Foolish Heart" (scored by Dee Barton) and Johnny Richards
' burnished arrangement of "Tonight" from the musical smash West Side Story.
The ensemble opens, as always, with Kenton's venerable theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," and also performs Gene Roland
's casual "Reuben's Blues," Kenton's arrangement of "Taboo Montuna" and a third Holman chart, on Ernesto Lecuona's "Malaguena," a long-time staple in the Kenton book. Material aside, it's wonderful to hear the orchestra so loose and relaxed, performing (it was presumed) for an audience and not for posterity. The rhythm section, solidly anchored by British drummer Ray Price
, cooks throughout, while everyone else rises to the occasion with finesse and fervor. Those who cling to the belief that the Kenton orchestra never swung need only listen to "Tico Tico" (or "Minor Booze") to disabuse themselves of that notion. As a bonus, there are engaging solo turns by a pair of relative unknowns, tenor saxophonist Mike Morris ("Reuben's Blues," "Dance," "Malaguena") and alto Charles Deremo ("Minor Booze," "Tico Tico") with extra heat on several numbers courtesy of percussionist Efrain Logreira. Trombonist Dick Shearer
solos with Kenton on "Taboo Montuna," while Stan is out front again on "Artistry in Rhythm," "Tonight" and "My Foolish Heart." As Michael Sparke writes in his first-rate liner notes, even the Golden Lion's piano was in tune.
This is one instance in which an album's premise isn't overstated. The orchestra truly does roar, and the audience on that October night in 1969 witnessed an inspired performance by everyone on the bandstand. High marks for substance as well as historic import.
Artistry in Rhythm; Reuben’s Blues; Sodomy; A Little Minor Booze; Tico Tico; Tonight; Dance; Malaguena; My Foolish Heart; Taboo Montuna; Granada.
Stan Kenton: leader, piano; Jim Kartchner: trumpet; Dennis Noday: trumpet; Tom Harrell: trumpet; Rob Hicks: trumpet; Skip Pfyl: trumpet; Charles Deremo: alto sax; Mike Morris: tenor sax; Bob Crosby: tenor sax; Willie Maiden: baritone sax; Bob Suckosi: baritone sax, bass sax; Dick Shearer: trombone; Mike Heathman: trombone; Jeff Apmadoc: trombone; Larry Moser: bass trombone; Graham Ellis: bass trombone, tuba; Gary Todd: bass; Ray Price: drums; Efrain Logreira: bongos, conga.