One doesn't automatically think of big bands when remembering late-'60s jazz, though big bands like the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra continued to make stimulating recordings. Central Park North, recorded and released in 1969, testifies that one could be a big band and progressive at the same time. Flügelhornist Jones and percussionist Lewis are joined by a large cast of players, including tenor Joe Farrell, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, and pianist Roland Hanna. The music runs the gauntlet from funky soul-jazz to more gentle traditional work, sometimes within the same piece. Jones' "Tow Away Zone" begins like a rather typical late-'60s composition (horns and organ with a soulful groove), but as the individual players cut loose with excellent solo work -- built within a multi-layered arrangement -- the piece takes on a character of its own. "Quietude" moves in the opposite direction, living up to its title by keeping things low-key, while "Jazz Samba" is a nine-minute romp with some great piccolo work. The swinging "Big Dipper" and ambitious title cut bring Central Park North to a satisfying close. The album, at 37 minutes, will seem a bit short by post-millennium standards, but the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra makes every minute count. The 2004 reissue will be a welcomed by fans of adventurous big band music.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.