Review Summary: One of solid state's less generic releases.
When it came to Jazz and Orchestra big bands during the ‘60s, few ensembles could boast the kind of staying power and muscle of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. With some of the biggest names in the business as part of the ensemble’s regular roster and the uniformly exceptional output of writer Thad Jones, this band was successful at a time when economics were making it hard for even established organizations to stay afloat. Unfortunately, the great legacy of the Thad and Mel band was documented on the Solid State label and aside from a Mosaic boxed set compiling that material which is long out-of-print, none of the group’s historic output for the label is available on disc.
This charming reissue from 1970 makes it even harder to accept the fact that Thad and Mel are no longer with us. Thank goodness we have such glorious music to remember them by. All of the compositions and arrangements are Thad’s, and each one is an unpretentious classic of its kind. The orchestra itself is beyond reproach, with sharp and explosive brass and reeds complementing its unrivalled rhythm section (Lewis, pianist Roland Hanna, bassist Richard Davis).
There’s less than forty seven minutes of music, but as Spencer Tracy said of Katharine Hepburn’s physique in the film Woman of the Year, all of it is coerce. Davis introduces the curtain-raiser, ‘Dedication,’ a lyrical convocation whose alluring melody, conveyed by Jones on flugel, is sandwiched around a lively midsection with potent solos by alto Jerome Richardson and trumpeter Snooky Young. ‘It Only Happens Every Time,’ a gently swaying bossa, contains brief solos by Hanna and trumpeter Marvin Stamm while the delightfully rhythmic ‘Tiptoe,’ showcasing Young’s trumpet and Jerry Dodgion’s alto, precedes one of Jones’s best known melodies, ‘A Child Is Born,’ where Davis, Hanna and Lewis provide stalwart support and the ensemble appends a breathtaking coda.
‘Us’ is a funky ensemble piece with amazing unison passages by brass and reeds leading to a brusque closing chord. ‘Ahunk Ahunk’ a groovy shuffle in 5/4 with Hanna on electric piano and three choruses each by Stamm and tenor Eddie Daniels, which leads into the epic 11 minute long ‘Fingers.’ This is well named, as its hurried tempo tests everyone’s digital proficiency (and none is found wanting). While trombonist Benny Powell, trumpeter Davey Moore and tenor Billy Harper are given ample room to stretch, there are three shorter statements by Hanna, a dazzling ensemble chorus by the reeds and muscular solos by Davis and Lewis that lead to an explosive shout chorus finale. French horns, tuba and piano establish the mood on the lovely ‘Consummation,’ with Jones again playing the melody on flugel and Hanna the featured soloist; this is a wonderful way to close a consistently impressive performance by the superb and greatly missed Jones / Lewis Orchestra. If only solid state would stop being pretentious about over generic bands and get out some proper re- releases of the spectacular Jones/Lewis Big band.
The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra is:
Thad Jones – flugelhorn
Snooky Young – trumpet
Danny Moore – trumpet
Al Porcino – trumpet
Marvin Stamm – trumpet
Eddie Bert – trombone
Benny Powell – trombone
Jimmy Knepper – trombone
Cliff Heather – bass trombone
Jerome Richardson – soprano saxophone
Jerry Dodgion – alto saxophone
Billy Harper – tenor saxophone
Eddie Daniels – tenor saxophone
Richie Kamuca – baritone saxophone
Pepper Adams – baritone saxophone
Joe Farrell – baritone saxophone
Roland Hanna – acoustic piano
Richard Davis – acoustic bass, electric bass
Mel Lewis – drums