Stan Kenton was a giant way ahead of his time and now largely forgotten, more's the pity, mainly because his sound was intelligent even beyond cats like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Duke Ellington. However, in his day, he enjoyed wide repute among swing and jazz's more sophisticated audiences and especially among musicians who were awed by the man's compositional chops. Kenton was actually a latterday classicalist/neoclassicalist who found himself outside academe (Philip Glass can attest to what a blessing that can be), much too hip for starchy ivied halls, and thus he revolutionized more populist music for a while. Kurt Edelhagen—sobriqueted 'The Prussian' for his iron severity in rehearsal—was a bandmaster aflame with the desire to match Stan…but fated to disappointment in that regard. That "failure", however, has no bearing on us, the audience, because in attempting such an unthinkably Olympian feat, Edelhagen turned out some very sophisticated music.
Like Kenton's work, the influence of 20th century classical composers wells up strikingly, here no sooner than track 3, a take on J. Coots' You Go to my Head with in-your-face Stravinsky and Copland elements, perhaps a bit of Ives, amid rainslick neon lights and brickwall back streets. Then comes the Grande Dame of stride piano, Mary Lou Williams, and a style that drove crowds wild. In St. Louis Blues, she starts with an atonally inflected vamp line that's decidedly modernist. I caught Earl Hines in Sarasota in the 70s, and he copped much the same tack, taking an almost Pink Floydian warm-up approach until settling into his wont. You could hear gasps all over Van Wezel Hall, and that same surprise erupts among the 1954 crowd taking it all in.
Caterina Valente's vocals spice up the band's Pennies from Heaven, utilizing her Italian accent as a musical device that, like Williams' work, garners huge approbation from the crowd. The closer, Alpha Jazz, is also an unusual piece. It starts out as a largo, spikes up into horns-dominated cinematic fanfare, and then settles into a melodic midground oscillating between pools of reflection and jungley travelogue. This CD, then, is yet another in the marvelous Big Bands Live series that, face it, you're kind of a fool if you dig this genre and aren't getting hold of the entire series—not that I'd insult my reading audience or attempt to hard-sell them, no, never THAT (ahem!), but, God, what a stellar and delicious lineage of Swing Age musics, otherwise completely unavailable, this series has trotted out.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm beginning to suspect my dad's and grandfather's generations were a lot more hip than I'd previously suspected. I loves me my rock and roll, I certainly does, but if you want to see where bands like the inimitable Deep Purple got their jaw-dropping underlying rhythms, you have to check out musics like this. The old saw is correct: it don't mean one damn thing if'n it ain't got that swing, Ebenezer, so loosen that skull cap, kick off them threadbare duds, and get down with cool catz 'n kitties. We can always use one more.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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