By all standards, the Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra was one of the most important post bop big bands around. It started because co-leader Thad Jones felt constrained under the yoke of the Count Basie Band, as the Count wanted everything stripped down to its most simplistic essence. Jones, more ambitious finally broke free to join together with drummer Mel Lewis to form this exciting band which set the standard for decades and held down the chair at the Village Vanguard for scores of years.
This two disc set contains the debut concert recordings from Feb 7 and Mar 21, 1966, before they made any of their Solid State Studio recordings. The band included all stars like Hank Jones/p, Richard Davis/b, a dream reed section with Eddie Daniels, Joe Farrell, Jerome Richardson, Pepper Adams and Jerry Dodgion, and a brass section boasting of Bob Brookmeyer, Snooky Young, Jimmy Nottingham and Bill Berry. The sound quality is exceptional for the time, and included is a big book with background and interview.
But you’re really going to want this for the music. You can feel the freedom that Thad Jones craved on the wild opening solo by Dodgion on alto during “Back Bone” where he winds and twists before driving pulse takes him on a 10 foot wave. The band shows it’s Basie roots on toe tappers like “Low Down” and “Ah, That’s Freedom” (along with some great ‘bone soloing by Tom McIntosh), but Jones shows why he left Basie’s editing pen when he mixes KC swing with wild adventure on “Big Dipper” and the Afro Cuban “Mornin’ Reverend” with Daniels’ searing tenor, while some Ellingtonian harmonies pop up on a dreamy “All My Yesterdays.”
As far as soloists, you’ve got a feast here. Brother Hank Jones gets the spotlight on a drop dead gorgeous “Plka Dots and Moonbeams” and Thad glows on “Willow Weep For Me.” Joe Farrell’s tenor fills the room on a richly harmonized “Lover Man” and the wild “One Around” lets Berry, Adams, Hank Jones and Mel Lewis stretch out on Barco Brothers lounge chairs. The tug of war between accessible swing and adventurous exploration is perfectly pulled in both directions, with no one falling in the mud pit. This one’s a must have, and up for Historical Album of the Year. The only reason it might not be the #1 winner is because of Resonance Records’ Getz/Gilberto. What a label! OH YEAH!