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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.