The Definitive Thad Jones

The Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, playing the music of Thad Jones during what turned out to be its last recording session, brings the long and prolific output of this marvellous band full circle. Since Mel’s passing in February 1990, the band is finding its way to a new identity - and things are looking very promising indeed. Mel would never have rerecorded these vintage Jones charts without a strong reason. Mel was his own sternest critic, and most protective of the band’s reputation. He felt that these new interpretations were valid both on their own, and in comparison to the originals.


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"a plethora of pleasures..."

Recorded at the Village Vanguard in February 1988 this is another of the increasingly valuable stable of MusicMasters issues licensed to - and re-released by - Nimbus’s Jazz wing. It charts the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in hard swinging and superb form playing a folio of tunes composed and arranged by Thad Jones. The resultant discs offer a plethora of pleasures and few if any longeurs.

Given the origin of the tunes one would expect nothing less than excellence. That applies as well to the soloists, who are all duly noted in the booklet. Trumpeter Glenn Drewes has an extensive outing on Low Down whilst pianist Kenny Werner is an apt choice for the harmonically evocative Quietude. Thad Jones had clearly listened to Benny Carter’s arranging for the saxophone section; his voicing and the undulating, elastic melodic phraseology lies behind Jones’ writing in Three in One where John Mosca takes a fast lipping fractious trombone solo. The Basie pay-off in Walkin’ About is wholly appropriate given that it was a Basie tribute – but note too Thad Jones’ typically bulgy lower brass writing, the bluesy alto of Dick Oatts and the Rollins-influenced tenor of Ralph Lalama.

Joe Lovano solos on Little Pixie in a sax section of himself, Ted Nash, Oatts, Lalama, and Gary Smulyan (not bad!). This track has a definite feel of something out of the famed Carter Further Definitions LP and has one good solo after another topped by watertight ensemble work, shifting accompanying patterns, ebullient bass work and Lewis’s unflashy, unflappable drum work.

Tip Toe gets a Latin American workout and Don’t Get Sassy fortunately, ironically, doesn’t live up to its name with some sassy Eldridge-derived brass playing from Drewes, some gloriously inventive Lovano and a locked groove from the whole band – terrific stuff and a real highlight. But as I said it’s just one of many. The band had individual and corporate strengths that generated music at the highest level. Extensive and very readable notes complete this class package.

Jonathan Woolf,

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