In August 2005, when Maynard Ferguson and Big Bop Nouveau recorded MF Horn VI at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London, no one could have known or even suspected that the trumpet legend would pass away one year later, shortly after a series of sold-out concerts at New York City's Blue Note nightclub and another recording session with BBN, this one a studio date in Englewood, New Jersey.
There's a saying about cowboys and westerners who lived life to the fullest that "they died with their boots on. Maynard Ferguson died almost literally with his horn to his lips, which is quite appropriate, as that's how several generations of jazz fans remember him, exuberantly leading a band while producing those incredible high notes that were not only his signature but placed him among trumpet players in a class by himself.
By the time MF Horn VI, his first live album in a dozen years, was recorded the high notes were few and far between, as Maynard let the youngsters in his band do much of the heavy lifting, but he was then 77 years old, and certainly entitled to a breather. He was smart and affluent enough to hire the best up-and-coming sidemen he could find, and modest enough to realize that people no longer expected him to shatter glass but were happy to see and hear a showman who so clearly loved what he was doing and always gave them their money's worth in terms of decibels and excitement.
There are some talented newcomers in this edition of BBN and a few holdovers including trombonist/music director Reggie Watkins and lead trumpeter Patrick Hession. There's even a distinguished alumnus, Denis DiBlasio, sitting in on baritone sax. One of the newbies, pianist Jeff Lashway, is a real find, while veteran drummer Stockton Helbing continues his steady improvement.
After "Blue Birdland ushers Maynard onstage, the well-structured program opens with Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema and closes with the mandatory "MF Hit Medley (at 11:47 the album's second-longest track). Sandwiched between them are Slide Hampton's classic "Frame for the Blues, the lovely Johnny Burke / Jimmy van Heusen ballad "But Beautiful (on which Maynard is featured most prominently), Miles Davis' fire-breathing "Milestones, Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer's "I'm Old Fashioned (featuring a dazzling four- minute intro by Lashway on which he quotes liberally from the Gershwins' "A Foggy Day ), and a grungy Alan Baylock original, "Blues from Around Here, on which DiBlasio unleashes his remarkable chops on the baritone and wows the audience with his Clark Terry-style scat-singing.
While DiBlasio alone is worth the price of admission, there's far more to be appreciated, not least of which is the fact that the young musicians in BBN are first-class and that their peerless leader knew how to please an audience. To the very end, Maynard Ferguson was an awe-inspiring presence, and no less so here.
Blue Birdland; The Girl from Ipanema; Frame for the Blues; But Beautiful; Milestones; I
Maynard Ferguson: trumpet, leader; Reggie Watkins: trombone, music director; Patrick Hession, Ernie Hammes, Peter Ferguson: trumpet; Julio Monterrey: alto sax; Matt Parker: tenor sax; Denis DiBlasio: baritone sax; Jeff Lashway: piano; Craig Butterfield: bass; Stockton Helbing: drums.
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