SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis – Consummation – Blue Note/ Pure Pleasure Records – vinyl

Iconic jazz orchestra ushers in a new era for big band music.

Published on April 26, 2012

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis – Consummation – Blue Note (1970)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2012) PPAN BST 84346 180-gram audiophile stereo vinyl, 46:04 *****:

(Thad Jones – Flugelhorn; Mel Lewis – drums; Snooky Young – trumpet; Danny Moore – trumpet; Al Porcino – trumpet; Marvin Stamm – trumpet; Eddie Bert – trombone; Benny Powell – trombone; Jimmy Knepper – trombone; Cliff Heather – trombone; Jerome Richardson – alto & soprano saxophone, flute; Jerry Dodgion – alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Eddie Daniels – tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Billy Harper – tenor saxophone, flute; Pepper Adams – baritone saxophone, clarinet; Roland Hanna – piano, electric piano; Richard Davis – bass, electric bass; David Spinozza – guitar; Jimmy Buffington – French horn; Earl Chapin – French horn; Dick Berg – French horn; Julius Watkins – French horn; Howard Johnson – tuba; with Richie Kamuca & Joe Farrell)

By the mid-sixties, big band jazz was all but extinct. In New York, a band was formed by trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis. Comprised of an all-star cadre of studio musicians in New York, The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra made their debut at the Village Vanguard in 1966. Their arrangements (by Jones who previously wrote and toured with Count Basie) drew on big band, swing, bebop and hard bop influences. Drummer extraordinaire Jones brought a smaller “combo” dynamic to the rhythm section that would be a benchmark for future big band drummers. Decades after their inception, the band remains as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, playing the legendary namesake venue regularly since the early nineties.

The re-mastered audiophile vinyl of Consummation (recorded in 1970) by Pure Pleasure Records captures the artistry of this progressive big band. With seven original compositions (written and arranged by Thad Jones), forty-six minutes of intricate textured large ensemble jazz unfolds with unpretentious skill and creativity. Side One opens with a presumed ballad, “Dedication”.  Jones’ flugelhorn is lyrical and melodic, backed by tinkling piano, bass and drum cymbal. Adding a soothing reed backdrop, horn accents chime in, only to segue into an explosive swing/dance jam.” It Only Happens Every Time” is laid out in a bossa nova tempo, with muted trumpet (Marvin Stamm) and flute (Jerome Richardson) shading. Roland Hanna contributes an elegant piano solo. Switching to a breezier cadence, “Tiptoe” is a layered arrangement, with graduated, sweeping movements There is an interlude with brush drums (Lewis) and horns that is rousing. Lewis’ band-leading talents are impressive. Roland Hanna’s sensitivity returns on “A Child Is Born”.  Jones also contributes to the emotional landscape with another memorable Flugelhorn lead. Using different approaches, “Us” is a funky brassy number that combines bass (Richard Davis) and guitar (David Spinoza) in a 60s-style rock mode.

Side Two turns up the heat on ”Amunk Amunk”. This opus percolates with soulful horns (especially a muscular tenor saxophone run by Eddie Daniels) and an electric piano. Within this framework, many subtle combinations of instruments are propelled by the driving pulse of Lewis. Fans of bop will be delighted with “Fingers”.  At ten and a half minutes (the longest cut on the album) the uptempo fury energizes the impromptu skills of the players, including a wild solo on trombone by Benny Powell.  Lewis’ driving rhythm (and ending flourish) matches the intensity of Art Blakey. The title cut (another ballad) brings in French horns and tuba (Howard Johnson), to combine with the muted trumpet of Snooky Young. After a nuanced crescendo, the album comes to a harmonious close.

The sound quality of this vinyl recording is dazzling. All of the instruments (even in a heavily blended configuration) are vibrant, and possess a warm resonance (especially the reeds). Delicate touches like a drum brush or flute emerge from the mix unfettered. The incisive liner notes from Jones and Lewis are tantamount to being in the studio during the recording. Even the illustrations by Leo Meirsdorff (color and black & white) are amazing. Consummation is a tremendous accomplishment, especially on hi-res vinyl.

TrackList:
Side One: Dedication; It Only Happens Every Time; Tiptoe; A Child Is Born; Us
Side Two: Ahunk Ahunk; Fingers; Consummation

—Robbie Gerson




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