Consummate Live Artistry,
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This review is from: At The Las Vegas Tropicana (Audio CD)
This CD was recorded live in Las Vegas on Feb. 2, 1959. It consists of 16 instrumental compositions and one brief novelty vocal. The music extends to about 63 minutes with an additional nine minutes of Stan Kenton introductions woven throughout the play list.
Capitol Records originally released the original 10 track vinyl LP in 1960. The Legendary producer, Michael Cuscuna remixed the album in 1996 and added an additional seven tracks recorded during the Feb.2 Tropicana date.
1959 found the Kenton band aggressively competing to remain commercially relevant. This was not an easy task. The "zenith" of the big band era was at least a decade in the past. Vocalists, who previously fronted the big bands, were now star solo performers. Adding to the competition was the growing appeal of rock n roll. While still in its enfancy, rock was attracting the record buying public and absorbing more and more critical radio air play.
Essentially, the last two bands that were touring 50 weeks a year were Stan Kenton and Woody Herman's organizations. Both these individuals were multi talented and well respected band leaders. There were many similar traits between these two icons. Both worked aggressively to keep their bands at a creative peak and economically viable. The chief distinction between these two, Woody never trusted a band that couldn't swing. Kenton never trusted a band that could.
It's within this context that the 1959 Tropicana dates plays out. Ironically, this period proceeds Kenton's last great creative period which occurred between 1960- 63 with his" Mellophoniun "band.
The recording of this live date maintains a studio quality sound. Kert Larson is owed a debt of gratitude for the 1960 remix and editing of the master tapes. The talented Gene Roland was the orchestra arranger, who created some classic jazz charts for this 1959 performance. He also composed five original tunes included in this set. Aside from the exceptional song selection and crisp arrangements, the claim to fame of the Kenton band was consistent high quality musicianship.
Jack Sheldon (trumpet) was the gold standard in the orchestra. However, there were many other Kenton band artists performing on this CD, equally talented but less know outside the jazz arena.
Listen to Lonnie Niehaus' (alto sax) lead solos on Lieber and Stroller's "Bernie's Tune". This number was closely associated with Gerry Mulligan. But Lonnie places his own creative stamp on this classic. Years later, Mr. Niehaus would evolve into a successful film composer.
Another example, is Richie Kamuca's tenor sax solo on "Random Riff ". He became a very in demand player and was associated with many great bands including, Woody Herman, Shelly Manne and The Lighthouse All-stars.
A young Billy Root, (baritone sax) featured on an original composition; "Puck's Blues "turns in a stellar performance. Stan Kenton was spot on when he predicted that the emerging artist would have a very rewarding career. Billy went on to play featured roles with Bennie Green, Buddy Rich and Dizzy Gillespie. He also backed up dozens of solo artists including, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eskstine, etc. This is just a small sampling of the talented artists performing on this date.
The play list and charts are flawless. Along with the exciting original material there are crisp, exciting arrangements of classic numbers including, "Don't get around Much Anymore"," I Concentrate On You ", "String of Pearls"," Tuxedo Junction ` and " Street Scene ".
Simply put, this music and the musicianship represented on this recording is some of the best anyone would hear during this era or any other.