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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke


Etude for Saxophones 1941-42
The Complete MacGregor Transcriptions Vol 2

Artistry in Rhythm
Memphis lament
Trumpet Symphonette
Love turns winter to spring
Marvin’s mumble
Arkansas traveller
Summer idyll
Congo clambake
Etude for saxophones
Let her go
It seems to me
Tempo di Joe
Cloud across the moon
Half a heart
Prelude to nothing
Stop your teasing
If I had love
Take sixteen
Hold back the dawn
Shufflin’ the chords
Quit your shovin’
No tears
Blue flare
Artistry in Rhythm

Stan Kenton and his Orchestra
Red Dorris (vocal)
Recorded Los Angeles 1941-42
NAXOS JAZZ LEGENDS 8.120518 [60.29]

Kenton may have become something of a cause célèbre in jazz but – pace Naxos’s series title – these are hardly more than run of the mill outings by his early band. Blessed with lots of whooping applause after every track – from studio acolytes or from cynical band members? – and the risible introductions of Jimmy Lyons (sample hep cat intro; "Red on the moaning and instrumental improvisations by Stan, Jack and Chico") and there’s much wheat and chaff sorting to be done here.

If you can overlook the vocals of Red Dorris – and it’s a big if – you might be able to appreciate, away from the lugubrious ballads, killer-diller goings on and big band flagwavers, some fine soloists. Jack Ordean was an astringent altoist whose solo on Prelude to nothing sidesteps the Carter-Hodges influences to rampant effect. I assume the trumpeter on the same tune is Chico Alvarez and his playing here is fiery and impressive. Elsewhere we can hear embryonic Kentonisms - listen to the three drums pyrotechnics of Memphis lament or the sectional saxophone work on Arkansas traveler or those leading voicings on Etude for saxophones to appreciate what Kenton was trying to achieve in terms of instrumental colour and rhythmic zest. There is some fine tenor playing here on more surging Eldridge-inspired trumpet work and it’s a pity that the notes can’t tell us more about them. In the main the notes simply transcribe Jimmy Lyons’s scripted absurdities which is about as lazy a way of compiling a series of notes as you can get, short of copying someone else’s.

Not an overwhelming experience then, musically, though one, I suspect, more properly representative of the day in and day out travels of a big band in 1941. But there really is a lot of chaff.

Jonathan Woolf


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