Maynard Ferguson was one of the most distinctive jazz artists working in the postwar big-band style, a trumpeter with an explosive style and the ability to hit high, piercing notes that would elude nearly all of his peers. In addition, Ferguson was a bandleader with a knack for finding fresh talent and making the most of their abilities. In the late '50s through the mid-'60s, Ferguson recorded 13 albums for Roulette Records; many aficionados consider Ferguson's early-'60s recordings to be among his very finest work, and this compilation features two of Ferguson's better Roulette releases, both recorded in 1961. Maynard '61 is an impressively diverse effort, opening with the dramatic, Latin-flavored "Olé," swinging through the swaggering "Blues for Kapp" and "Ultimate Rejection," and tearing through the fast-paced "Pharaoh." Ferguson's solos are incisive, and his band handles the nuances of the arrangements with aplomb. Straightaway Jazz Themes is a slightly different kettle of fish; Straightaway was a short-lived TV series starring John Ashley and Brian Kelly that ran a single season from 1961 to 1962, and Ferguson was hired to write music for the show. Straightaway Jazz Themes is adapted from the cues Ferguson composed for the series, and the material follows the brassy style of television themes of the day; this material is less purely "jazz" than Maynard '61, though once again the band is in superb form and Ferguson himself solos with skill and bravado. Ferguson's years with Roulette Records were prolific (and might have been more so if the label's notorious head man, Morris Levy, had been willing to actually pay Maynard), and most of the material has been out of print for decades, so this reissue is welcome news for fans of the latter-day big-band scene.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming