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Thankfully, Mary Lou Williams' music has been getting "rediscovered" quite a bit over the past few years through reinvestigation of her sacred works, as well as her own solo and small group performances, plus interpretation/tributes by small groups led by Dave Douglas, John Hicks and Geri Allen. Now the Dutch Jazz Orchestra has given us Williams' big band arrangements of her own compositions covering the vast span from 1936-78 on this release, subtitled "The Lady Who Swings the Band."
Particularly valuable are five arrangements she wrote for Duke Ellington's orchestra, which that group never recorded. Now that would have been a dynamite album! "Chief" is like Duke Ellington meets hard bop. "Scorpio," arranged for Duke in 1946, has a stronger melody than many MLW compositions, brought to us by a gorgeous clarinet. "O.W.," with hints of "It Don't Mean a Thing," is tremendously exciting, particularly the trumpet work over massive horn backing. "Scratchin' In the Gravel" is a luscious 1967 reworking of the blues which Wiliams wrote for Andy Kirk's band in 1940, with DJO's Albert Beltman evoking (but not imitating) Johnny Hodges. "You Know Baby" is essentially another Hodges vehicle.
Two of the other arrangements here, "Aries Mood" and "Shafi," written in the '60s and '70s, are reminiscent of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis' band. "Shafi," with its many changes of mood, tempo and rhythm, is... well, my notes say "Whew!" "Lonely Moments" reveals Williams' "bop" inclinations as early as 1943. The only sour note here is "What's Your Story, Morning Glory?," Williams' 1938 piece written for Andy's Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy. Though it's well-played, especially the clarinet solos, the tempo is downright sluggish compared with the original.
Overall this is a beautiful album; nearly everything is well-played, nuanced and exciting. Let's hope this "rediscovered music" leads many more big bands to perform Mary Lou Williams' work.
Track Listing: Chief; Aries Mood (A Portrait of Ben Webster); MediII; Scorpio; O.W. 3/01; Scratcin' In The
Gravel; Shafi; What's Your Story, Morning Glory?; New Musical Express; You Know Baby;
Lonely Moments; Ghost of Love; Walkin' and Swingin'.
Personnel: Jan Oosthof, Ruud Breuls, Erik Valdkamp, Peter van Soest, Mike Booth: trumpet; Hansjorg
Fink, Andy Bruce, Dave Rothschild, Martin vanden Berg: trombone; John Ruocoo, Albert
Beltman, Hans Mejdam, Ab Schaap, Simon Rigter, Nils van Haften: reeds; Rob van Bavel:
piano; Martijn van Iterson: guitar; Jan Voogd: bass; Eric Ineke, drums.