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Stan Kenton: Sophisticated Approach

Edward Blanco By

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Sophisticated Approach is a reissue of eighteen iconic ballad arrangements by Stan Kenton, originally recorded in 1961 with his unique and controversial four-piece mellophonium horn section. The ballroom circuit was the life-blood of the Kenton Mellophonium Orchestra in the late '50s and early '60s, and this album, arranged by Lennie Niehaus, was intended as an addition to the dance library, which was to contain plenty of up-tempo tunes. After recording two beautiful slow pieces, however, the producers pushed for an entire album of ballads utilizing the Kenton mellophoniums.

Kenton's arrangements were often front-loaded with an eight to ten-man trumpet and trombone section, creating a powerhouse sound with balance problems. He sought a new voice that could bridge a gap in the music and thus created the mellophonium horn, a cross between the French horn and the trumpet. Unlike the high-pitched French horn and the low-register trombone, the awkward-looking mellophonium produced a sound that filled the middle range, acoustically nestled between the trumpet and the trombones.

He employed four of these instruments in his orchestra, and by most accounts, they were not easy to play or liked by the other players. Trombonist Jiggs Whiggam, a member of the Kenton band, stated that "the mellophoniums were not loved at all... we called them elephant horns." He further stressed the known pitch problem by saying that the pitch "sometimes varied within an octave on any given day." On this recording the instruments were played by Dwight Carver, Keith La Motte, Carl Saunders, Gene Rowland and Ray Starling, who subbed for Rowland on six tracks.

The Mellophonium Orchestra recorded eleven albums from 1960 to 1963. By the end of the decade, the mellophonium was virtually eliminated from the jazz world in favor of the less temperamental flugelhorn, often rejected by Kenton until much later in his career. The eighteen numbers on this album feature popular standards played in a modern idiom. Among the selection are the Rodgers & Hart piece "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," Cole Porter's Easy To Love," the Gershwins' "How Long Has This Been Going On," and the Arlen/Mercer classic "Come Rain Or Come Shine." A common thread throughout is a slow-moving melody that builds up to a crescendo of shouting brass, led by the loud and bellowy sounds of the four-"bastard" section, as the mellophoniums were warmly referred to by the band.

Producing a unique and powerful sound that's unlikely to ever be duplicated, Kenton's mellophonium section augmented an already heavy woodwind section, contributing to a musically rich and rewarding orchestration. For listeners unfamiliar with Kenton's Mellophonium Orchestra and sound, this album may be an eye-opener.


Track Listing: But Beautiful; Darn That Dream; It Might As Well Be Spring; Moonlight Becomes You; How Do I Look In Blue; You Stepped Out Of A Dream; How Long Has This Been Going On; Memoirs Of A Lady; Time After Time; Easy To Love; My One And Only Love; Like Someone In Love; Some Enchanted Evening; Make Someone Happy; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Gigi; Bewitched Bothered And Bewildered; Magic Moment.

Personnel: Tracks 1-12: Dalton Smith, Bud Brisbois, Bob Behendt, Marvin Stamm, Bob Rolfe: trumpets; Bob Fitzpatrick, Jack Spurlock, Bud Parker: trombones; Jim Amlotte: bass trombone; Dave Wheeler: bass trombone, tuba; Dwight Carver, Gene Roland, Carl Saunders, Keith LaMotte: mellophoniums; Gabe Baltazar: alto saxophone; Sam Donahue, Paul Renzi: tenor saxophones; Marvin Holladay: baritone saxophone; Wayne Dunstan: baritone saxophone, bass saxophone; Stan Kenton: piano; Red Mitchell: bass; Jerry Lestock McKenzie: drums. Tracks 13-18: Dalton Smith, Bob Behendt, Marvin Stamm, Bob Rolfe, Norman Baltazar: trumpets; Bob Fitzpatrick, Dee Barton, Bud Parker: trombones; Jim Amlotte: bass trombone; Dave Wheeler: bass trombone, tuba; Ray Starling, Dwight Carver, Carl Saunders, Keith LaMotte: mellophoniums; Gabe Baltazar: alto saxophone; Buddy Arnold, Paul Renzi: tenor saxophones; Allan Beutler: baritone saxophone; Joel Kaye: baritone saxophone, bass saxophone; Stan Kenton: piano; Pat Senatore: bass; Jerry Lestock McKenzie: drums.

Title: Sophisticated Approach | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Capitol Records

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