THE DOZENS: MODERN BIG BANDS by Eric Novod



                            The Big Band, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

It can be argued that since 1970, the big band has had just as important a role in the development of post-bop modern jazz as any small group subgenre. Some of the more interesting musical minds to emerge over the last 35+ years have come out of the big band world, and yet many still receive comparatively little recognition for their effort. Is this perhaps due to their inclusion in a genre that is sometimes unfortunately labeled as a “has-been?” Is it because it’s financially unfeasible to assemble a big band and keep it afloat, making it easy to brush past the relatively small number of longstanding, high-ranking modern big bands that have actually made it happen?

This Dozens attempts to display the significance of the post-bop big band since 1970. Some tracks are from artists whose careers began far before 1970, but who were still performing during this time period, influencing generations of younger big band leaders. Other tracks highlight unsung heroes and new faces in the world of the modern big band.

The overriding theme throughout is the timelessness of the subgenre. Unsurprisingly, I could have ended every review by citing Duke Ellington’s influence, which is still amazingly palpable in even the most avant-garde big band performance. On the other hand, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, the first and earliest track reviewed here, performed at the Blue Note during election week 2008. Charles Mingus and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, the other two early influential artists included here, are commemorated in New York by the weekly residencies of the Mingus Big Band and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, respectively. The more things change in the big band world – and boy do they ever change – the more they stay the same.


Charlie Haden: War Orphans

Track

War Orphans

Group

Liberation Music Orchestra

CD

Liberation Music Orchestra (Impulse CD 188)

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Musicians:

Charlie Haden (bass), Carla Bley (piano),

Don Cherry (cornet, flute), Michael Mantler (trumpet), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Bob Northern (French horn, percussion), Perry Robinson (clarinet), Dewey Redman (alto, tenor saxes), Gato Barbieri (tenor sax, clarinet), Sam Brown (guitar), Howard Johnson (tuba), Paul Motian, Andrew Cyrille (drums, percussion)

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Composed by Ornette Coleman; arranged by Carla Bley

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Recorded: Judson Hall, New York City, April 27-29, 1969

Albumcovercharliehaden-liberationmusicorchestra

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

In 1969, even though Charlie Haden & Co. were clearly staunch opponents of the Vietnam War, the Liberation Music Orchestra took the high road to deliver a sociopolitical message, performing instrumental music largely inspired by the Spanish Civil War. The big band was therefore infinitely more powerful than your average musicians performing their usual fare while playing political preacher between song performances.

On Ornette Coleman's "War Orphans" from the Liberation Music Orchestra's debut recording, Haden and pianist/arranger/co-conductor Carla Bley engage in an extended conversation with delicate, guarded grace. The remaining players creep in as the tune concludes, providing an eerie culmination in which a social and political message has been delivered without a word uttered. Also notice that this big band is not assembled by section as classic big bands were. A big band where you have only one musician to a part, as is the case here, is a significant modern development that leads to some groundbreaking playing throughout this 1969 recording.

Although the group has only occasionally toured and recorded since 1969, Haden and Bley occasionally bring the band out of retirement whenever the time comes to deliver a musical message. No surprise that they were set to perform at the Blue Note during election week in November 2008.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Big Band: Little Pixie

Track

Little Pixie

Group

Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Big Band

CD

Village Vanguard Live Sessions, Vol. 3 (Delta 17138)

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Musicians:

Thad Jones (flugelhorn), Mel Lewis (drums), Jerome Richardson (alto sax), Eddie Daniels (tenor sax), Joe Farrell (tenor sax), Pepper Adams (baritone sax),

Snooky Young, Jimmy Nottingham, Richard Williams (trumpets), Garnett Brown, Tom McIntosh, Cliff Heather (trombones), Jerry Dodgion (alto sax), Roland Hanna (piano), Richard Davis (bass)

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Composed by Thad Jones

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Recorded: New York, November 15-17, 1970

Albumcoverthadjones-mellewis-villagevanguardlivesessions-volume3

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Sure, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band occasionally entered the electric/fusion world with funk-groove experiments: check out "Central Park North" for a prime example. But the famed group that performed every Monday night at the Village Vanguard epitomizes the modern big band when they are just plain swinging, too. Their arrangements and featured soloists skillfully combine Swing Era classicism with the energy and freedom of bebop and hard bop. On this track, Jerome Richardson, Eddie Daniels and Joe Farrell take fine solos, and Pepper Adams's rousing baritone sax solo makes clear why he was nicknamed "The Knife." The widespread, sustained influence of this group can still be heard every Monday night when the current Vanguard Jazz Orchestra plays many of the Jones/Lewis arrangements as a memorial to the originators of the straight-ahead, modern New York big band.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Charles Mingus: Hobo Ho

Track

Hobo Ho

Artist

CD

Let My Children Hear Music (Columbia-Legacy CK 48910)

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Musicians:

Charles Mingus (bass),

Lonnie Hillyer, Jimmy Nottingham, Joe Wilder, Snooky Young (trumpets), Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Julius Watkins (French horn), Charles McPherson, Jerry Dodgion, Bobby Jones, Hal McKusick, James Moody (saxes), Jaki Byard, John Foster, Roland Hanna (piano), Charles McCracken (cello), Dannie Richmond (drums)

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Composed by Charles Mingus; conducted by Teo Macero

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Recorded: New York, September 30, 1971

Albumcovercharlesmingus-letmychildrenhearmusic

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Time and again, exploring the forward-thinking approach of any of jazz's true stylistic innovators ultimately leads further and further back into the music's history. As fundamentally modern and influential as Mingus's intricate rhythmic conception within a gospel/blues framework has been, it simultaneously presents an equally powerful nod to the previous foundation laid by Duke Ellington.

The first half of "Hobo Ho" returns to an earlier Mingus form – the single, gospel/blues bass theme that lays the groundwork for a guttural tenor solo and quick, biting background hits. Around the 4-minute mark, though, the arrangement turns into a more complex, through-composed event with multiple interweaving rhythmic figures as the tenor solo gradually melts away into a free-for-all climax. The 1950s and '60s seem to drift into the '70s at that 4-minute mark, displaying the arranged freedom that so many had set out to perfect throughout the '60s. The controlled chaos that has built throughout the tune eventually recedes and leaves the introductory bass theme as the last player standing, taking us both literally and figuratively back to where we started.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Toshiko Akiyoshi / Lew Tabackin Big Band: Strive For Jive

Track

Strive For Jive

Group

Toshiko Akiyoshi / Lew Tabackin Big Band

CD

Tales of a Courtesan (Oirantan) (RCA JP 1 0723)

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Musicians:

Toshiko Akiyoshi (piano), Lew Tabackin (reeds),

Richard Cooper, Steve Huffsteter, Mike Price, Bobby Shew (trumpets), Charles Loper, Bill Reichenbach, Jr., Jim Sawyers, Phil Teele, Britt Woodman (trombones), Gary Foster, Bill Perkins, Tom Peterson, Dick Spencer (reeds), Don Baldwin (bass), Peter Donald (drums)

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Composed by Toshiko Akiyoshi

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Recorded: December 1-3, 1975

Albumcovertoshikoakiyoshi-lewtabackin-talesofacourtesan-oirantan

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band originated in Los Angeles in 1973. During the early '80s, wife Akiyoshi and husband Tabackin relocated to New York, revamping the group with new personnel and a new name: The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin. Until the group officially disbanded in 2003, they recorded 20+ masterful big band works and amassed an enormous list of honors and awards. Just take their Down Beat Critic's Poll wins as evidence: Best Big Band every year from 1979-1983; Best Arranger (Akiyoshi) of 1979, 1982, 1990, 1995 and 1996; and Best Composer (Akiyoshi) of 1981 and 1982.

"Strive for Jive" is an early track from the group's West Coast days. The most palpable initial impression is certainly Akiyoshi's arranging skills. Check out the shout chorus on this up-tempo bop chart – very few arrangers could approach the swinging superiority of an Akiyoshi shout-chorus. And her piano playing ain't bad, either. A classic track from one of the under-publicized giants of the modern big band.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Gil Evans: Up From the Skies

Track

Up From the Skies

Artist

Gil Evans (electric piano)

CD

Live at the Public Theater in New York, Volume 1 (Evidence)

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Musicians:

Gil Evans (electric piano), Jon Faddis (trumpet), George Lewis (trombone), Arthur Blythe (alto, soprano saxes), Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax, flute), Billy Cobham (drums),

Marvin “Hannibal” Peterson, Lew Soloff (trumpets), Dan Bargeron (trombone, tuba), John Clark (French horn), Masabumi Kikuchi (organ, synthesizer), Pete Levin (synthesizer, clavinet), Tim Landers (electric bass)

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Composed by Jimi Hendrix

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Recorded: live at the Public Theater, New York, February 8-9, 1980

Albumcovergilevans-liveatthepublictheaterinnewyork-volume1

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The collaboration that tragically never materialized between master arranger Gil Evans and guitar hero Jimi Hendrix nonetheless produced some pretty significant developments. In 1974, Evans recorded and released The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix, and in so doing (at least in part) legitimized the adoption of the rock tune as the new jazz standard. While many laud Brad Mehldau or BeatleJazz for repeatedly dipping into the rock canon, the man behind the curtain here, as for so many other important developments in jazz history, turns out to be Mr. Evans.

"Up From the Skies" is one of the few Hendrix tunes that Evans continued to play after his 1974 tribute record. Gil's impeccable arrangement simultaneously (1) allows the listener to forget this ever was a rock tune and (2) nods to Hendrix's harmonic conception – many of the hip harmonies that Evans has accentuated were ripe for the picking straight from the original version. This astounding group from 1980, featuring Faddis, Lewis, Blythe, Bluiett, Kikuchi and Cobham, makes this the foremost version of an important jazz-rock development.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Sun Ra Arkestra: Prelude to a Kiss

Track

Prelude to a Kiss

Group

Sun Ra Arkestra

CD

Cosmo Omnibus Imaginable Illusion: Live at Pit-Inn [aka Pitt-In], Tokyo (DIW 824)

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Musicians:

Sun Ra (piano, synthesizer, vocals),

Ahmed Abdullah, Michael Ray (trumpets), Tyrone Hill (trombone), Marshall Allen (alto sax), John Gilmore (tenor sax, percussion), Danny Thompson (baritone sax), Leroy Taylor (clarinet, bass clarinet), June Tyson (violin, viola), Bruce Edwards (guitar), Rollo Radford (electric bass), Earl “Buster” Smith and Eric Walker (drums)

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Composed by Duke Ellington

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Recorded: Live at Pit-Inn, Tokyo, Japan, August 8, 1988

Albumcoversunraarkestra-cosmoomnibusimaginableillusion-liveatpitinn-akapittin-tokyo

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

As it turns out, a rather strange, indefinable period in jazz history that lasted from the mid- to late '80s allowed for Sun Ra, one of its oddest, most indefinable characters, to come into greater view. But it wasn't simply a matter of timing that slightly but certainly widened Ra's fan base (or made some of his detractors loathe him a little less). Without ever sacrificing his complete and utter individuality, Ra definitely increased the accessibility factor come the 1970s and '80s – teaching a class at UC Berkeley, becoming a visible presence in his Philadelphia hometown, and incorporating classic jazz standards into his live repertoire. A prime example of a Ra-reinvented track is Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss," recorded at Tokyo's Pit-In. Ra's deft stride piano and playful yet respectful arrangement prove that as far out in the cosmos as you get in the big band world, you're never more than a step from the Duke.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Milt Jackson with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Bags' Groove

Track

Bags' Groove

Group

Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

CD

Explosive! Milt Jackson Meets the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (Warner Bros. 47286)

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Musicians:

Milt Jackson (vibes), Jeff Clayton (clarinet, flute, alto sax), John Clayton (conductor), Jeff Hamilton (drums), Bill Cunliffe (piano),

Oscar Brashear, Clay Jenkins, Bobby Rodriguez, Byron Stripling (trumpets), Ira Nepus, Maurice Spears (trombones), Lee Callet (clarinet, baritone sax), Keith Fiddmont (clarinet, flute, alto sax), Charles Owens (clarinet, tenor sax), Jim Hershman (guitar), Christopher Luty (bass)

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Composed by Milt Jackson; arranged by John Clayton

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Recorded: live at The Jazz Bakery, Los Angeles, CA, 1998

Albumcovermilt_jacksonmeetstheclaytonhamiltonjazzorchestra-explosive

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Brothers Jeff and John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton have co-led the premier West Coast big band for the last 20+ years. Whether backing vocalists Diana Krall or Rosemary Clooney or presenting John Clayton's arrangements of tunes by Duke, Sonny Stitt or Horace Silver, the group performs impeccably arranged, historically minded, ultra-swinging charts. As with most modern big band performances, "Bags' Groove" offers an updated twist on a familiar historical mainstay. Milt Jackson's classic bop tune is energetically arranged here to evoke the classic Hampton sound. Yet the interactive rhythm section playing behind Jackson, especially drummer Hamilton and pianist Cunliffe, reinvents the vibist/big-band relationship, giving a familiar sonic combination an entirely new life.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Maria Schneider: Bird Count

Track

Bird Count

Artist

Maria Schneider (leader)

CD

Days of Wine and Roses: Live at the Jazz Standard (ArtistShare 0017)

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Musicians:

Maria Schneider (leader), Frank Kimbrough (piano), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Larry Farrell (trombone), Scott Robinson (baritone sax),

Laurie Frink, Greg Gisbert, Tony Kadleck (trumpets/flugelhorns), Rock Ciccarone, George Flynn, Keith O’Quinn (trombones), Rick Margitza, Rich Perry, Charles Pillow, Tim Ries (reeds), Ben Monder (guitar), Tony Scherr (bass), Tim Horner (drums)

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Composed by Maria Schneider

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Recorded: live at the Jazz Standard, New York, January 2000

Albumcovermariaschneiderdaysofwineandroses-liveatthejazzstandard

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Maria Schneider wrote "Bird Count," a tribute to Parker and Basie, while still at Eastman School of Music over 25 years ago. It has since become her most common set closer, a rousing blues that ended many a night during her longtime residency at Visiones Jazz Club in New York from 1994-1998. It also closes this live date from the Jazz Standard, a superb display of Schneider's immense writing and arranging talents. Days of Wine and Roses combines Schneider's strongest collection of regular players (Jensen, Ciccarone, Ries, Robinson, Monder, Kimbrough, Scherr, Horner) with some of the finest compositions of her career, including "Lately," "The Willow," "My Ideal" and "Bird Count." Note excellent blues solos from pianist Kimbrough, trumpeter Jensen (the track's highlight), trombonist Farrell and baritone saxophonist Robinson. A standout track from the modern purveyor of the Bob Brookmeyer/Thad Jones/Mel Lewis arranging style.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Dave Holland Big Band: Blues for C.M.

Track

Blues for C.M.

Artist

Dave Holland (bass)

CD

What Goes Around (ECM 1777)

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Musicians:

Dave Holland (bass), Chris Potter (tenor sax), Robin Eubanks (trombone),

Earl Gardner, Alex Sipiagin, Duane Eubanks (trumpets), Andre Hayward, Josh Roseman (trombones), Antonio Hart, Marc Gross (alto saxes), Gary Smulyan (baritone sax), Steve Nelson (vibes), Billy Kilson (drums)

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Composed by Dave Holland

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Recorded: New York, January 2001

Albumcoverdaveholland-whatgoesaround

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Perhaps no modern jazz musician has had a more profound effect on jazz rhythm than bassist/bandleader Dave Holland. From as far back as his Conference of the Birds and Jumpin' In from the 1970s and early '80s, to his famed Quintet recordings of the '90s, Holland has been largely responsible for popularizing complex long-form mixed-meter passages. But while 9/4, 11/4 and 13/4 are all fairly common meter choices for Holland, his careful, seamless writing suggests that his unique melodies are written without trying to squeeze any into a specific mixed meter. An interesting Holland melody, when completed, might just happen to wind up lasting 9 beats instead of 8.

Many of Holland's quintet arrangements translate perfectly into the big band format, as evidenced throughout his 2001 big band debut, What Goes Around. His frequent instruction to have tenorman Potter and trombonist Eubanks play concurrent melodic lines (in the quintet format) come to life to the nth degree when entire big band brass sections harmonize the previously composed, interweaving single lines. This powerful style of collective arranging can be heard throughout "Blues for C.M.," Holland's tribute to Charles Mingus, a slow-burning, ever-building blues (in 4/4!).

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Andrew Hill: Divine Revelation

Track

Divine Revelation

Artist

Andrew Hill (piano)

CD

A Beautiful Day (Palmetto 2085)

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Musicians:

Andrew Hill (piano), Marty Ehrlich (reeds), Greg Tardy (reeds), Scott Colley (bass),

Dave Ballou, Ron Horton (trumpets), Mike Fahn, Joe Fielder, Charlie Gordon (trombones), Jose Davila (tuba), J.D. Parron, John Savage, Aaron Stewart (reeds), Nasheet Waits (drums)

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Composed by Andrew Hill

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Recorded: live at Birdland, New York, January 24-26, 2002

Albumcoverandrewhill-abeautifulday

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

"Divine Revelation" from Andrew Hill's A Beautiful Day, a live big band date recorded at Birdland in 2002, is an example of a big band revealing a whole new world of exciting possibilities for a bandleader who usually assembles only small groups. This track, originally recorded with a quartet on the 1975 SteepleChase date Divine Revelation, allows Hill to assign some of his complex piano layering to the brass section, freeing him to interact with the dueling saxophonists throughout the majority of this track. Near the tune's conclusion, the polyrhythmic lines, usually handled by Hill himself once again, develop into a Holland-esque polymetric dialogue in the hands of the big band. Marty Ehrlich and Greg Tardy stand out here, as well as the stylish stability of Scott Colley's bass.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Jason Lindner: Suheir

Track

Suheir

Artist

Jason Lindner (piano, keyboards)

CD

Live at the Jazz Gallery (Anzic 4101)

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Musicians:

Jason Lindner (piano, keyboards), Duane Eubanks (trumpet), Jay Collins (soprano sax),

Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Joe Fielder, Dana Leong, Rafi Malkiel (trombones), Anat Cohen, Chris Karlic, Miguel Zenon (reeds), Omer Avital (bass), Eric McPherson (drums), Yosvany Terry Cabrera (percussion)

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Composed by Jason Lindner

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Recorded: live at the Jazz Gallery, New York, November 2005

Albumcoverjasonlindner-liveatthejazzgallery

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Jason Lindner, a native New Yorker, emerged as the foremost big band leader among the wave of young jazz musicians who congregated at Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village during the 1990s. Throughout his longstanding Monday night residency there, Lindner performed original compositions with a wide range of influences: roaring gospel-blues intensity of Mingus, standard modern arranging of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, strong presence of polyrhythm and odd-meters, and a constant underpinning of modern Latin and funk rhythms. "Suheir" incorporates all the aforementioned influences. The melody successfully alternates between 6/8 and 7/8 time, the background figures all interact through cross-rhythm and polyrhythm, and trumpeter Duane Eubanks and soprano saxophonist Jay Collins engage in an extended improvisational duel padded by colorful trombone harmonies. A tour de force from one of New York's young guns.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Hilario Duran: Paq Man

Track

Paq Man

Group

Hilario Duran and His Latin Jazz Big Band

CD

From the Heart (Alma 66062)

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Musicians:

Hilario Duran (piano), Paquito D'Rivera (alto sax, clarinet), Horacio 'El Negro' Hernandez (drums),

Alexis Baró, Alex Kundakcioglu, Brian Okane, Jason Logue (trumpets), Alistair Kay, Phil Gray, William Carn, Colin Murray (trombones), John Johnson, Luis Denis, Vern Dorge (alto saxes), Quinsin Nachoff, Jeff King (tenor saxes), Perry White, Pol Coussee (baritone saxes), Rob Piltch (guitar), Roberto Occhipinti (bass), Rosendo “Chendy” León (timbales), Joaquín Hidalgo (congas, bongó, batá, guiro)

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Composed by Hilario Duran

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Recorded: 2005-2006

Albumcoverhilarioduran-fromtheheart

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The modern Latin Jazz Big Band is alive and well, as evidenced by this Hilario Duran effort featuring Paquito D'Rivera and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez. While it's sometimes difficult to find the jazz amidst a Latin Big Band, Cuban/Canadian Hilario Duran declares with the very name of this new group that he is consciously combining Latin and jazz styles. D'Rivera delivers the "Paq Man" melody on clarinet amidst clever bop background figures that are bookended by mambo percussion breaks. Duran and D'Rivera then exchange solo choruses until Hernandez blazes over a concluding montuno to arrive at the track's rousing conclusion.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


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