Big Band Horsepower: Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Fuel-injected and testosterone-drenched are not descriptions usually associated with big band music. Enter Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson. These prominent big bands of the late-60s and 70s throw convention and easy listening out the window. Each band had a fearless leader who was a virtuoso on his respective instrument.

big_swing_face_album_cover
Big Swing Face, 1967

Buddy Rich, known the world over as the best drummer of all time, heads up his band from the rear with fireworks and showmanship. On several live sessions you can hear Rich shouting orders like a gunnery sergeant. He was notoriously hard on his players and it paid off in spades — leaving behind numerous recordings, most on the Pacific Jazz label, teaming with hard-driving, turn-on-a-dime tracks. Rich usually supplied a mix of compositions, both contemporary and jazz standards, on his albums. Some tracks dipped in to the WWI-era swing bag. However, it’s Rich’s contemporary tracks that really offer his band’s full pyrotechnic potential. A favorite of mine is the album Big Swing Face from 1967 on Pacific Jazz. On this release we can hear some true modern gems like “Mexicali Nose” and “Willowcrest”. The band roars in focused unison while Rich lays down superhuman drum solos. On 1969’s Keep The Customer Satisfied Rich pays tribute to the score from the film Midnight Cowboy with a lengthy medley that just about brings down the house. To have seen this band live would have been an opportunity to witness perfection.

mf_horn_3_album_cover
M.F. Horn 3, 1973

Maynard Ferguson, oppositely, lead from the front on both trumpet and trombone. He was best known for his “stratospheric” playing on trumpet having had the ability to hit a triple C in his trademark upper register. Ferguson was also known to dance on stage — achieving his usual euphoria by his band’s infectious swing. By 1970 he honed his players into a contemporary sound machine with the uncanny ability to play anything and everything. He sometimes covered pop themes such as the title track from 1974’s Chameleon or “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)” on 1977’s Conquistador without reservation. He made the “Theme from Shaft” on 1972’s M.F. Horn Two swing like nobody’s business. Some of his staples have aged very well including the moody “Eli’s Comin'” and the 10-minute epic “Macarthur Park” both from the excellent 1970 release M.F. Horn. Ferguson proved to be a genius at arranging — making familiar tunes wholly original and relevant. If anything, Ferguson breathed new life into big band orchestrations with his unabashed enthusiasm, bold strokes and crowd-pleasing material.

If anything, Ferguson breathed new life into big band orchestrations with his unabashed enthusiasm, bold strokes and crowd-pleasing material.

Next time you need a soundtrack to a formula one grand prix or a jumpstart to your day try spinning some Rich or Ferguson — seat belts are optional.

Donate to JazzSherpa

Help support this jazz blog and make a small donation to help purchase material to review.

$5.00


Please visit the JazzSherpa Bodega for great looking jazz merch and support jazz wherever you are.

David Sylvian and ECM

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

David Sylvian, former frontman for the highly influential post-punk band Japan (1977-1983), surprisingly held certain jazz artists in high regard. Upon starting his solo career, Sylvian brought with him his unique vocal talents, strong songwriting abilities and his unrelenting interest in experimentation. His new solo direction offered textures and moods strikingly different from those of his former band.

brilliant_trees_album_cover
Brilliant Trees, 1984

On his first few albums he tapped the virtuosity of some well-known musicians from the ECM label. Sylvian’s output displayed some similarities to the subdued ECM aesthetic. It was oftentimes quiet, dark and very personal. His tastes in composition and arranging also displayed many similarities to the Munich-based label. Mixed use of acoustic and electronic instruments to create a unique soundscape was standard at ECM. It was Sylvian’s own velvety voice which kept his music instantly recognizable and undeniably his own. His use of brass in some of his early albums helped to establish and reinforce his maturity as a composer and major artist in his own right.

Mixed use of acoustic and electronic instruments to create a unique soundscape was standard at ECM.

In 1984’s Brilliant Trees Sylvian begins the process by adding the distinguished trumpets of Jon Hassell and Kenny Wheeler to the mix. From the buoyant opener “Pulling Punches” with its slap bass fills, there is a concerted effort to use brass for coloring. The moodier “Ink in the Well” uses trumpet to an even greater effect, allowing a freer interplay with the leader.

On “Weathered Wall” we hear trumpet played with effects. Along with a mix of drums, keyboard, tape and the leader’s vocals this track displays a hallmark — a truly unique sound to Sylvian. Effects-laden trumpet is again heard on the heavy-synth “Backwaters” and the longer title track.

alchemy_an_index_of_possibilities_album_cover
Alchemy – An Index of Possibilities, 1985

By 1985 Sylvian had already changed his colors, reaching for something totally different. His album Alchemy – An Index of Possibilities again employed the trumpet talents of Jon Hassell and Kenny Wheeler. Comprised of three long tracks we hear Sylvian laying down a clear foundation for Eno-esque atmospherics, something he would return to in later years.

gone_to_earth_album_cover
Gone To Earth, 1986

On 1986’s double album Gone to Earth we hear vintage ECM-style musings of Kenny Wheeler on the second track “Laughter and Forgetting”. A trumpet solo on “Wave” is played competently with effects in what has already become a Sylvian staple. Ten of the 17 tracks are dedicated to instrumentals where long compositions take on an ambient air.

secrets_of_the_beehive_album_cover
Secrets of the Beehive, 1987

1987 produced what is sometimes referred to as Sylvian’s greatest and most personal achievement, Secrets of the Beehive. On this mostly acoustic album we hear the trumpet of Mark Isham. His horn sounds like a rising phoenix on the excellent track “Orpheus”. Although we hear Isham’s solo trumpet only briefly on this album it’s effect is lasting and adds to the well-rounded arrangements supplied by the critically-acclaimed composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. There is a muted appearance by Isham on the lazy “Let the Happiness In”. His trumpet meanders slowly down a path with the leader’s vocals creating a relaxed environment.

Sylvian’s early sound displayed an uncanny similarity to the ECM aesthetic.

Although Kenny Wheeler appears on 1999’s Dead Bees on a Cake, the 80s witnessed most of Sylvian’s arrangements for brass. His most recent albums explore a more minimalistic and clinical approach, quite opposite of his earlier recordings. Sylvian’s early sound displayed an uncanny similarity to the ECM aesthetic. The addition of brass in these pioneering, early-career sessions cement Sylvian’s compositions in this world — one distinctly made by human endeavor.

Donate to JazzSherpa

Help support this jazz blog and make a small donation to help purchase material to review.

$5.00


Please visit Jazz Sherpa Outfitter and support jazz wherever you are.