Lou's Blues, an exercise in ultra-modern composing, arranging and blowing by Lou Marini Jr. and the Magic City Jazz Orchestra, may bring a smile to the face of many big-band enthusiasts and leave others shaking their heads in bewilderment. It depends on one's point of view. Marini, whose influences include blues, rock and free jazz as well as more traditional rhythms, harmonies and lyrical devices, lays them all on the table in eight inclusive charts that resist easy appraisal or labeling. Some may find them fresh and exhilarating, others enigmatic and wearisome. My own opinion lies somewhere between those extremes.
As a composer/arranger, Marini has a number of creative ideas and makes the most of this opportunity to share them, testing the MCJO with elaborate themes and arrangements that demand a high level of awareness and musicianship. To its credit, the ensemble is more than equal to the task at hand. It had better be, as the ensemble is in the forefront much of the time, with most of the improvised passages in Marini's hands (he plays tenor and soprano sax most of the way, flute on "Song for John," alto on the "country" section of "Rena/Country"). Others given a chance to shine include trumpeter Bo Berry, tenors Neil McLean and Dave Amaral, guitarist Tom Wolfe, pianist Ray Reach and bassist Robert Dickson.
"Lou's Blues," a modal design that embodies sharp solos by Marini (tenor), Dickson and Wolfe, precedes "Looking with New Eyes," a cheerful bossa written in 1972 whose exemplary trombone soli balances crisp statements by Marini (alto) and Berry. Marini's unorthodox notions surface on "Hip Pickles," whose "free" intro gives way to a melody played by screaming trumpets and Clapton-like guitar, prefacing a stormy interchange between Marini (alto) and Wolfe. Marini plays soprano and tenor on the dark-hued "Odalisk," soprano again on the late Weldon Irvine's funky "Mr. Clean," flute and soprano on his diaphanous "Song for John." "Dangerous Cargo" is a delightful change of pace, an amorous samba enhanced by Reach's tasteful piano and Marini's searing tenor.
The finale is sliced in two, with the band swinging hard on the bluesy "Rena" to reinforce clear-eyed solos by Berry, McLean and Amaral. After a ten-second pause, the MCJO launches into the free-wheeling "Country," an old-fashioned stomper taken at a frenzied pace and planned (intentionally) to simulate a vinyl LP with its inescapable clicks, pops and surface noise. A great way to wind up a remarkably inventive session that may not be everyone's cup of tea but should prove invigorating to those whose taste buds are primed for a new experience.
Track Listing: Lou's Blues; Looking with New Eyes; Hip Pickles; Odalisk; Mr. Clean; Song for John; Dangerous Cargo; Rena / Country (56:15).
Personnel: Lou Marini, composer, arranger, tenor, alto, soprano sax, flute, with the Magic City Jazz Orchestra -- Ray Reach, director, piano; Gary Hallquist, Gary Wheat, Dave Amaral, Neil McLean, Grady Chandler, Daniel Western, Kim Bain, reeds; John Taylor, Chris Gordon, Craig Konicek, Mark Avant, Daryl Jones, Bo Berry, trumpet; Steve Pryor, Edson Worden, Bob Black, Charles Ard, Jim Moeller, trombone; Mike Lingo, bass trombone; Tom Wolfe, Jim Wallis, guitar; Chris Wendle, Robert Dickson, bass; Steve Sample, Sonny Harris, drums.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.