Summit Records has captured two sessions recorded in Boston by a large group of New England musicians led by trumpeter Greg Hopkins. Most of the music was composed by Hopkins and is designed to incorporate the events which have influenced him during the last 25 years, running from his work in jazz and Motown in Detroit to playing in and writing for such big bands as Buddy Rich's. The title is somewhat misleading. The music is less African than European symphonic. This group is in the mold of similar large contemporary bands that play in a concert like manner like the Carla Bley Very Big Band, the Mingus Big Band and the European based George Gruntz Concert Band. It also follows in the tradition of the Duke Ellington Orchestra when that unit played in a concert format. Like those organizations, the Hopkins units features exciting arrangements, tight, dynamic ensemble work and strong, straight ahead blowing from top rate soloists.
There are four two-part compositions on the album allowing Hopkins' ideas to be fully explored. "Steller-Prologue" and "Steller by Satellite" are journeys, relatively gentle rather than perilous, into the creative world of modern jazz, with jagged rhythms, dissonant give and take between instruments such as between Hopkins' trumpet, Joe Hunt's drums with clashing cymbals and Jeff Galindo's trombone.
Hopkins, as expected, gets most of the solo work, although sax man Bill Pierce and guitarist Mick Goodrick do quite well also. Pierce is allowed spacious solo room on the Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes" with Goodrick's guitar working underneath. This is one of the prime tracks on the album. Guitarist Goodrick is accorded much of the individual playing room. Okavongo offers exciting progressive jazz with classic symphonic jazz overtones and is recommended.
Track Listing: Stretchin'#; Okavongo*; Contra Part 1*; Contra Part 2*; Nightfall; Crackdown - Dialogue; Crackdown; Infant Eyes; Sphere of T. M. Part 1; Sphere of T. M. Part 2; Thoughts*; Steller - Prologue*; Steller by Satellite*
Personnel: Greg Hopkins, Scott DeOgburn, Don Gorder, Jeff Stout, Paul Fontaine, John Daly, George Zance - Trumpet/Flugelhorn; Larry Monroe, Bruce Nifong, Mark Pinto - Alto Sax/Flute; Bill Pierce - Tenor & Soprano Sax; Greg Badolato, John Griener - Tenor & Soprano Sax/ Flute; Tom Ferrante, Mark Phaneuf - Baritone Sax/Bass Clarinet; Tony Lada, Rick Stepton, Jeff Galindo, Jerry Ash, Tim Kelly - Trombone; Goodrick. Mick - Guitar; Tim Ray, Chris Neville, James Williams# - Piano; Paul Del Nero, Bruce Gertz - Bass; Joe Hunt - Drums
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.