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The Sound of Kenton

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Album Review

The Stan Kenton group at this hitherto unreleased recording of a 1971 concert in Clearwater, FL, while not as large as some of Kenton's earlier ensembles like the Neophonic Orchestra, still has 18 players with the trademark large brass section that blared as brilliantly as ever. What's missing are the great arrangers and players that peopled Kenton's '40s, '50s, and '60s groups. Kenton's arrangers and band members during the '40s and '50s read like a Who's Who of jazz. Also missing is a band vocalist. Joe Ellis does "Terry Talk," a takeoff on Clark Terry's special way of wordless vocalizing forever institutionalized in his "Mumbles." Ellis' style in some ways anticipates the later coming of rap. While not having the headliners of earlier groups, this 1971 band is not made up of slouches. There are outstanding musicians populating the band's sections. Quinn Davis and Chuck Carter provide sizzling sax solos, as does Gary Pack on trumpet. Dennis Noday, along with Pack, takes over the Maynard Ferguson high-note trumpet playing role critical to the success of Kenton arrangements. And Kenton plays some charts of his past arrangers, like Bill Holman's "Malaga" and Dee Barton's "MacArthur Park." The leading arranger with this outfit, Willie Maiden, adds some interesting charts of his own. And the charts are as complex as ever, featuring the expected, but still startling, drastic rhythmic changes in direction within the same song. Among the most glaring are "MacArthur Park," "Tico Tico," and "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life." The latter has delicate Kenton piano followed by dissonant Quinn Davis saxophone. At this stage of his career, Kenton didn't have all that much new or different to say. Despite the fact that this group lacks the newness of earlier aggregations, its playing is still vibrant. But this two-CD release is more than one-and-a-half hours of Kenton, and that may be too much for all but dyed-in-the-wool devotees. Smaller doses may be necessary.


Born: 15 December 1911 in Wichita, KS

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

There have been few jazz musicians as consistently controversial as Stan Kenton. Dismissed by purists of various genres while loved by many others, Kenton ranks up there with Chet Baker and Sun Ra as jazz's top cult figure. He led a succession of highly original bands that often emphasized emotion, power, and advanced harmonies over swing, and this upset listeners who felt that all big bands should aim to sound like Count Basie. Kenton always had a different vision. Kenton played in the 1930s in...
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