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Artistic dreams and financial realities are rarely in alignment. That's a sad fact that the great Quincy Jones learned the hard way at the dawn of the '60s. Jones was in Europe at the time, directing a dream orchestra that he put together for the musical Free And Easy. When that show closed in February of 1960, he decided to keep things going. The big band tours that followedin 1960 and 1961were, by all accounts, successful in an artistic sense; the ledgers, however, told a different story. Jones accrued tremendous debt in trying to keep things afloat during the first ten months of touring, and the dictates of the almighty dollar eventually sank that operation. Those talent-stacked outfits from that period were powerhouses that truly seemed to be destined for longevity and greatness, but things don't always work out the way they should. Such is life.
Several live documents recorded by Jones' orchestra(s) from that era have come to light and made their way to the marketplace in different ways over the ensuing yearsmusic recorded at a concert in Zurich on March 10, 1961; a jam session recorded in that same city on the very next day; a recording of a different version of the band in Newport three months laterbut this one takes the cake in terms of length and completeness. The thirteen songs featured on this albumrecorded at a concert in Ludwigshafen, Germany on March 15, 1961, and seeing the light of day for the first time herecapture this group in all its glory.
The band delivers a sundry selection of music over the course of this program, with full tilt swing, melt-your-heart balladry, spicy sounds, and more in the mix. There are welcome opportunities to hear jazz giants in solo flight, witness tight displays of section cohesion, and observe marvels in arranging. Some gems clock in at less than three minutesa beautiful "Solitude" featuring underappreciated trombonist Melba Liston, a cooking and kicking "Caravan" focused on Julius Watkins' French hornwhile others, such as an appropriately bluesy "Stolen Moments" and a highly energetic "Lester Leaps In," run north of the ten minute mark.
It's hard to pick just a handful of highlights here, as there's gold to be found in many of these songs. Some things, however, stand out more than others: Those unfamiliar with trumpeter Benny Bailey may be awestruck after they hear his back-to-back-to-back features on "Moanin,'" "Summertime," and "I Remember Clifford"; alto saxophonist Phil Woods' swoon-inducing work on "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set" could bring a tear to even the most hardened of listeners; and full steam ahead performances on numbers like "Air Mail Special" and "The Birth Of The Band" leave no doubt as to the sheer power possessed by the collective personnel. It's very tempting to lament what could've been if this band had time to go and grow, but better to appreciate what this group created and accomplished in such a short period of time.
Air Mail Special; G'wan Train; Solitude; Stolen Moments; Lester Leaps In; Moanin'; Summertime; I Remember Clifford; Ghana; Banja Luka; Caravan; The Midnight Sun Will Never Set; Quincy Jones Introduces His Orchestra; The Birth Of A Band.
Benny Bailey: trumpet; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Paul Cohen: trumpet; Curtis Fuller: trombone; Melba Liston: trombone; Ake Persson: trombone; David Baker: trombone; Julius Watkins: French horn; Phil Woods: alto saxophone; Joe Lopes: alto saxophone; Eric Dixon: tenor saxophone, flute; Budd Johnson: tenor saxophone; Sahib Shahib: baritone saxophone, flute; Patti Bown: piano; Les Spann: guitar, flute; Buddy Catlett: bass; Carlos "Patato" Valdes: conga drums; Stu Martin: drums; Quincy Jones: arrangements and conducting.