We’ve become familiar with those newly discovered dusty tapes that are released as “recordings of historical importance” some of which, alas, might have been better left on the shelf. But there are also releases which can wear the “historical importance” badge with pride and which are also absolutely terrific measured against any other standard you wish to hold up against them. This double CD is just a release.
The collection of New York’s finest formed when drummer Mel Lewis and trumpeter Thad Jones got together, put the call out to their associates and labelled the result the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, played Mondays at the Village Vanguard for 12 years (or, if you don’t want to be too picky, for nearly 50 years, latterly as the Mel Lewis Orchestra and then the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra). The very first time the band played the legendary venue was on Monday 7 February 1966. And the first disc of this double set is that night, the first official release of the recordings (the second disc is from 21 March that same year).
Right from the first few minutes of the opener, Back Bone, it’s clear that this is something special. Jones is clapping and hollering at the front, Lewis is pushing that beat at the back, and the soloists are standing tall, digging deep, having the times of their lives. It’s top notch playing from first note to last with an exhilarating mix of spot-on ensemble playing of Thad’s arrangements and flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants solos. This really was a band that encouraged risk-taking.
The players include Hank Jones on piano, Jerome Richardson, Joe Farrell and Eddie Daniels in the saxophones, Snooky Young and Jimmy Owens in the trumpets, and Bob Brookmeyer and Garnett Brown in the ‘bones.
The recording, made by George Klabin is excellent, everything from the cowbell that introduces Mornin’ Reverend to the solid pulse of Richard Davis’s bass in pleasing balance. The packaging, in Resonance’s customary, slightly larger than the usual CD case size, is stylish, and the generous booklet of essays, including interviews with band members, Klabin and the releases producers, as well as old photographs, is a real pleasure, put together with the same love and care as the recordings.
Categories: CD review