This album is a compilation of the best compositions from the first season of Stan Kenton's Neophonic Orchestra, an early attempt to create a jazz orchestra in residence that didn't travel the country doing one- nighters. Although the organization only lasted for three seasons, it was an artistic success and is a model now employed by many in-residence jazz ensembles throughout the country.
The record was also nominated for a Grammy Award in 1966, and it is easy to see why. The first work is Hugo Montenegro's "Fanfare," a short introductory piece that makes a passing nod to similar works by Copland and Stravinsky. John Williamsyes, that John Williams of "E.T." and "Star Wars" famecontributes his "Prelude and Fugue," comprised of 2/3 prelude and 1/3 fugue and featuring a hard-driving solo by stalwart Kenton alto saxophonist Bud Shank. Another interesting contrapuntal work is Allyn Ferguson's "Passacaglia and Fugue," which employs the repeating bass pattern of the passacaglia (a favorite compositional device of composers from the 17th and 18th centuries) in addition to the fugue. This is perhaps the most swinging fugue you'll ever hear, with the possible exceptions of Swingle Singers arrangements of the fugues of J.S. Bach. Jim Knight's "Music for an Unwritten Play" is a smooth swinger and an ideal vehicle for the alto of Bud Shank.
From the standpoint of musical form, Russ Garcia's "Adventure in Emotion" stands as the most interesting piece on the album. An extended five-movement composition, the work features Bud Shank on alto, Gil Falco on trombone, Gary Barone on trumpet and tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper this time on oboe. Cooper was one of the first and finest of jazz oboists, a rare breed to be sure, but one including some notable examples like Yusef Lateef. The five movements of the composition have an interesting thematic relationship, and the fifth movement features a recapitulation of movements one and two.
The always interesting composer/arranger Clare Fischer rounds out the album with his "Piece for Soft Brass, Woodwinds and Percussion." A brilliant orchestrator, Fischer's writing fully exploits the virtuosity and versatility of the reed section (who play a total of 30 instruments among five musicians). In addition, the tripartite composition (fast-slow-fast) is a marvel of contrapuntal complexity.
It's nice to think there was a time in the not too distant past when an album like this could have gotten nominated for a Grammy. Fortunately, this CD gives us an insight into what was undoubtedly one of the most important experiments in the history of modern jazz.
Track Listing: Fanfare; Prelude and Fugue; Passacaglia and Fugue; Music for an Unwritten Play; Adventure in Emotion, Pts. 1-5: Pathos/Anger/Tranquility/Joy/Love-Hate-Love; Piece for Soft Brass, Woodwinds and Percussion
Personnel: Stan Kenton, conductor; Trumpets: Dalton Smith, Frank Higgins, Gary Barone, Ronnie Ossa, Ollie Mitchell; Trombone: Bob Fitzpatrick, Vern Friley, Gil Falco, Jim Amlotte; French horns: Vince DeRosa, Bill Hinshaw, John Cave, Richard Perissi, Arthur Maebe; Tuba: John Bambridge; Reeds: Bud Shank, Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Don Lodice, John Lowe; Emil Richards, vibes; Claude Williamson, piano; Dennie Budimir, guitar; John Worster, bass; Nick Ceroli, drums; Frank Carlson, tympani, percussion