On this 1996 recording, improbably the first to ever feature him leading a big band, the inimitable Joe Henderson assembled nine compositions (seven of which were self-penned) and a topnotch band for a very interesting record. Volumes have been written about Henderson as a soloist but, on Big Band, even the longest-term Henderson fan gets to hear his prodigious skills as a big band arranger for the first time. Influenced by Bill Holman and Bill Russo as much as by classical composers Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok, his charts are cool and sophisticated. Of course, Henderson's cause is helped by the absolutely unquestioned majesty of the core material, as well as a fine batch of co-soloists, including Chick Corea, Christian McBride, and Freddie Hubbard. The Slide Hampton-arranged "Isotope" is one of the finest moments on the record, with an almost amusingly dramatic introduction that evokes a film noir score before it accelerates into the famous theme. Corea's solo is absolutely masterful, a headlong rush into nothingness that somehow manages to land on its feet. When laid side by side, his solos often outstrip the leader's in their inventiveness and capability to draw the listener into the song. This is not, however, to downplay the contributions of the leader as a soloist; Henderson's tenor is as lovely as ever. Fantastic solos notwithstanding, it is the wonderful arrangements of these deservedly classic songs that make this album so valuable. Listen to the Robin Eubanks-led trombone section in "A Shade of Jade" for a quick taste of what it sounds like when everything about a big band comes together just so. There is not a lot to dislike about Joe Henderson's first recorded foray into big-band arranging. Recommended.
AllMusic Review by Daniel Gioffre