Jones, Thad / Mel Lewis - Live on Tour Switzerland - New LP
Groove Merchant

Jones, Thad / Mel Lewis - Live on Tour Switzerland - New LP

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This was first released as a CD in 1995 as Basle, 1969, and then reissued by Sonny Lester and his Groove Merchant label.  The arrangements are credited to trumpeter Thad Jones, and most of the compositions too, and even when they are doing Ellington's "Come Sunday," Jones is clearly leading the proceedings.  Of course, I don't know Jones' voice well enough to recognize it, and the horn in the spotlight might belong to one of the other players.  The closer is credited to saxophonist Jerome Richardson and especially comes across to be a wonderful group effort focusing on both the groove and the individuals, as if perhaps Thad said, hey I've got the arrangements and our horn charts will punch it home, but this is the band's chance to group up and show your stuff. While this album contains the song "Groove Merchant" not all Groove Merchant offerings were really what one thinks of as 1960s' groove, as this releases shows.  This is big band.  Of course the band was formed in the 1960s so groove informs, and bop clearly comes to the front when the orchestra drops to the back.  The closer "Groove Merchant" is still big band, but it's also pure groove.  In fact, this helps provide a history lesson: the 1960s and 1950s influenced this music, and when those influences show, you're also (and perhaps mainly) seeing how this big band style laid down the foundations of the jazz of the 1950s and 1960s--bop and groove.  Since drummer Lewis was co-leader of the band, the rhythm section plays a big part and drives the music forward, but Lewis made the wonderful decision to avoid solos so the spotlight remains on the other players and we don't have to sit through any of those awkward drum solos.  (This may seem rather forward thinking but it actually might be respect for the past.  The idea of clipping the solos and focusing on rhythm might be remembered as a 1970s response to all the excess in progressive rock and jazz fusion, a lesson that was especially important with punk and funk and influenced nearly all musicians since the 1970s, but we must remember that focusing on rhythm and making everything part of everything was a strive to return to the fun music of the early 1960s, and it's important to recognize that all that music of the 1960s came from black music of the previous decades, from Bo Diddley back to New Orleans jazz.)  Anyway, getting back to this record: big band ain't my bag, but if it is yours, this is worth grabbing, nearly changed my mind about big band and certainly provided an appreciation for this team of musicians, has all that big-band punch and plenty of room for individual players to speak up and let their voice be heard.  Thad Jones and all the other horn players, pianist Roland Hanna, even bassist Richard Davis get plenty of space to showcase their solos while still staying grounded in the groove.  - winch 

(This album is missing a few cuts that were included on the 1995 CD, but apparently this features all the best cuts because the following review is for the 1995 CD and all the "highlights" called out in the review are included on this vinyl release from 2008.)

"This live concert, broadcast over Swiss radio features the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra at its prime. The remarkable all-star group includes two first trumpeters (Snooky Young and Al Porcino) and such soloists as trumpeters Richard Williams, Danny Moore and Thad Jones, trombonist Jimmy KnepperJerome Richardson on soprano, Jerry Dodgion on flute and alto, baritonist Pepper Adams, pianist Roland Hanna, bassist Richard Davis and tenor great Joe Henderson whose short stint with the band was long enough to include this European tour. Highlights of the superior set include "Second Race," "The Waltz You Swang For Me," "Don't Get Sassy" and "Groove Merchant." Highly recommended to fans of the band, this Swiss CD can be found with a bit of a search." - Scott Yanow


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