Maynard Ferguson

Primal Scream/New Vintage/Carnival

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Trumpeter and composer Maynard Ferguson rose to prominence in the latter days of the big-band era, and he clearly loved the strength and dynamics that came from a large ensemble. However, as fusion came to dominate the jazz charts in the 1970s, Ferguson walked a canny middle ground, adding funk and pop flavors to his music while still working with a band large enough to give him a broad tonal palette. This set from Beat Goes On Records features three of the more successful albums from Ferguson's '70s fusion period: 1976's Primal Scream, 1977's New Vintage, and 1978's Carnival. Primal Scream seems to have been arranged with the dancefloor in mind, with lots of funky basslines and disco-inspired drumming on board, but the brass arrangements are forceful and imaginative, and the uptempo arrangement of "Pagliacci" gives Ferguson plenty of room to show off his flashy trumpet style. On New Vintage, he and his band kicked off the set with what would become another one of their trademark gimmicks: a brassy arrangement of the theme from a current hit movie, in this case Star Wars. While the disco-fied "Star Wars" is a bit much in spots, it's better executed than most pop takes on John Williams' distinctive theme, and the rest of the album finds them in more subtle form, especially the pleasing Latin accents of "El Vuelo (The Flight)." And though Carnival includes the arguable nadir of Ferguson's movie tie-ins with the theme from Battlestar Galactica, the album is otherwise one of Ferguson's best efforts of the period, with the Latin-flavored "Carnival," the punchy "How Ya Doin' Baby," and a flashy arrangement of "Stella by Starlight" showing Maynard and his always impressive band of young turks were still capable of handling more challenging stuff. And each album gives Ferguson several opportunities to show off his skills as one of the highest and hardest hitters in jazz, and if his solos are not always subtle, his gifts are inarguably impressive. Anyone with a taste for Ferguson's work of the mid- to late '70s will find this set right in their wheelhouse, which documents what Maynard did best in robust fashion.

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