Bill Kirchner’s list of recommended big band albums, compiled for his students, brought reaction. As might have been predicted, knowledgeable and opinionated Rifftides readers sent in their comments. Here they are. If more come in, we will compile and post them. Thanks to everyone who responded.
Very nice list. I am glad to see some names included (Don Ellis, Claire Fischer) that others might leave off. I hope your students dig into the music you are suggesting. Of course, I can’t help mentioning a few of my favorite big band CDs from the period for possible inclusion:
Terry Gibbs: Terry Gibbs Dream Band.
Vince Mendoza: Blauklang (a real sleeper here, and not widely heard since it is on a European label).
Bob Curnow’s L.A. Big Band: The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays
Dave Holland Big Band: What Goes Around.
And I just got a copy of a (still to be released) CD earlier this week that knocks my socks off . . Vipassana: Numinous Plays the Music of Joseph C. Phillips, Jr. Imagine Steve Reich collaborating with Maria Schneider . . . If you get a chance to hear it, check it out. – Ted Gioia
Nice list, though I might drop a couple, and add something from both
the Clarke/Boland Big Band, and Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass. – Ted O’Reilly
Bill K.’s list pretty much nails it. I would also suggest JJ Johnson’s
Brass Orchestra on Verve (1997). Architecturally ambitious, rich
in color (no reed section), stylistically comprehensive, and swinging.
JJ’s compositions and arrangements mostly (“Enigma,” “El Camino Real,” etc.) but also arrangements by Slide Hampton, Robert Farnon, Robin Eubanks; and “Swing Spring,” “Gingerbread Boy,” and “Wild Is The Wind.” Long out of print on the CD side, Amazon lists a few copies from its affiliated sellers ($7.15!!) and iTunes has it as well. I’d go for the CD: the booklet is superb and you get notes and a full personnel listing. Full disclosure: I greenlighted the project during my term at Verve. It was probably the biggest money-loser we had, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I miss JJ. – Chuck Mitchell
Seems to me slightly pertinacious to recommend the Basie items listed but then omit the so-called Atomic Basie album on Roulette, often considered the highwater mark of his Fifties band. And what the heck are the Verve Master CDs doing there; do they represent actual albums reissued without name? Or are they anthologies (as would seem)? Also, I would nominate the lovely Laurent Cugny albums dedicated to Gil Evans’ works (and including his participation in small ways) as worthy end-of-life tributes to a real Master; it would be interesting to know what Maria Schneider, Gil’s assistant and protege, thinks of them. – Ed Leimbacher
How about something by Toshiko Akiyoshi: Kogun, perhaps, or Long Yellow Road? They seem to me to be both original, with their synthesis of East and West, and powerful. – John Shade
As a high school student in the mid 60’s (grad 1967) and a saxophone/jazz arranger nerd, I wore out several copies of Woody Herman’s ’63 and ’64 albums along with This Time By Count Basie: Hits of the 50’s and 60’s. My friends were into the Kenton Band, which, other than the live Neophonic Orchestra album, bored me. Don Ellis was big too. I did get swept into this for a while.
The local Wallgreens Drug Store had a “cut out bin” with jazz albums that sold for $1.00. Gary McFarland’s Profiles entered my life. It was the most creative writing I had heard. Innovative yet unpretentious use of altered big band instrumentation. What would normally be the standard trombone section has Bob Brookmeyer on valve bone, Jimmy Cleveland, Bob Northern on French horn, and Jay McAllister on tuba. The reed section is stacked with a mix of the the best doublers and improvisers in New York at the time. Phil Woods, Jerry Dodgion, Zoot Sims, Richie Kamuca, and Jerome Richardson. We get Gabor Szabo AND Sam Brown on guitar (Gabor gets to be Gabor) plus Richard Davis on bass.
My sax player friends were all claiming to be learning “Giant Steps.” I transcribed McFarland’s “Winter Colors” for the school jazz band. A short time later I got a copy of Gary McFarland’s October Suite featuring Steve Kuhn on piano. These two albums turned me into a college composition major. – Richard Mathias
Without nominating a specific example, I’d like to see something from the subgenre of bands that play charts based on recorded solos, like the Monk Town Hall big band and Supersax. Besides “I like it,” I think these bands represent a step in the process by which bebop turned into a musical canon, with acknowledged classics–Bird’s solo on “Embraceable You” or Monk’s on “Little Rootie Tootie.” – John Burke
Bill Holman’s album Brilliant Corners (his arrangements of Monk’s
tunes) belongs in every “best of” list, imho. I wish there was a mention of Gerald Wilson and the Clarke-Boland Big Band. – Barak
(Bill Kirchner included Clarke-Boland in his Stan Getz category – DR)
I fully concur with Kirchner’s comments re: Holman’s earliest work being his best. As much as I love his writing, and I’ll go to hear it at every opportunity, I’ve never heard anything written after the early 60s that approached what he did before then. – Jim Brown
Interesting list that, obviously, touches lots of bases. One immediate addition ought to be Anthony Braxton’s Creative Music Orchestra 1976 (Arista/Mosaic). I’ve always considered it Braxton’s definitive record for the way it reconiles his unique take on the tradition with experimentalism. The album includes two jagged yet groovy stompos with culicue saxohone lines and puncy brass that comes out of Ellington, et. all, but there’s also a remarkably wild march that connects the dots between Sousa, Ives, post-Webern classical modernism and the jazz avant-garde — quintessential Braxton. A few other possibilities that come to mind off the top:
Gunther Schuller’s writing for either of the two albums with Joe Lovano, Rush Hour and Streams of Expression (both Blue Note), bring his Third Stream ideas up to date in very satisfying ways.
I’d like to figure out a way to get Slide Hampton on the list — probably The Way by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (Planet Arts), which features all Hampton charts. Toshiko Akiyoshi’s band ought to be on the list too. The great early RCA LPs from the mid ’70s are now out as a Mosaic Select box, but if I had to pick just one, it would be Long Yellow Road. – Mark Stryker
I saw Bill Kirchner’s list of commendable big band albums since 1955, and I think he’s left out the one album that stands out far above anything on the list, and that’s The Nutcracker Suite by Ellington/Strayhorn on Columbia c.1961. As I see it, this is the most intelligent, most resourceful, most imaginative, musically impeccable, and wittiest composing and arranging for big band that’s ever been heard in jazz. And the band’s performance is electrifying. How does one leave this out–and include two Charles Mingus albums? I don’t get it. But hey, I never got Coltrane either. Or Elvis. Sue me. – Dave Frishberg