Trombonist, composer and arranger Slide Hampton claims a number of influences, among them Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok. This fact will give the discerning jazz fan pause. Fans of the modern big band sound will hesitate only briefly, because big, rich arrangements and romantic bombast are all in a happy day's listening for them. Those who prefer the more classical strains of small-combo bebop or the restrained cool of 1950s West Coast jazz, however, may not get past the second track on this impressive and sometimes slightly oppressive album. Leading Germany's magnificent SWR Big Band -- an ensemble whose blend is almost inhumanly fine and whose grasp of Hampton's sometimes fiendishly difficult charts is more than impressive -- Hampton creates the musical equivalent of a bustling metropolis, with ideas zooming everywhere amongst enormous chordal monoliths and a general feeling of chaos kept at bay by subtle yet highly orchestrated structure. At times one is left more impressed than entranced, as on the dense but ultimately rather gushy "Peanut Butter and Honey", and at other times one wishes the trumpets would just knock it off already with the screaming Maynard Ferguson stuff. But when Hampton gets the band loosened up for some New Orleans-style group improvisation on "Blues for My Father" or when he relaxes alone with the piano on a sweet duet arrangement of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square", the effect is truly magical. All in all, there's more Berlioz than bebop here, and whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends on one's tastes and perspective.
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AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson