The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is the successor to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra (which began rehearsing in the Village Vanguard in 1966 and was led by Lewis after Jones' departure until the drummer's death in 1990); at the time of this recording pianist Jim McNeely (a veteran of the Jones-Lewis band) had been appointed composer-in-residence and also returned to play piano. McNeely's demanding charts keep the band's members on edge with the tricky changes of his "Extra Credit"; even more intricate is his very wild but thoroughly enjoyable "Absolution." The leader's playful tribute to Jones, "Thad," showcases his own formidable chops, as well as those of trombonist John Mosca and trumpet player Scott Wendholt; there's also one dedicated to Lewis, "Mel," which even incorporates a bebop phrase that the late drummer always played at the end of each set. The only standard of the date is a haunting arrangement of "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," which McNeely drastically reharmonizes and features alto saxophonist Dick Oatts as its only soloist. This challenging music is well worth exploring.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden