Orchestra U.S.A.

Orchestra U.S.A.: The Debut Recording

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John Lewis formed Orchestra U.S.A. as a vehicle to potentially explore any composed or improvised music, blending elements of jazz and classical music by recruiting some first-rate players from both worlds. The result is one of the more successful third stream recordings. There are two string quartets, plus woodwinds, brass, and a rhythm section present. Collaborating with Gunther Schuller, who conducted the group and did some of the orchestrations, Lewis expanded his work "Three Little Feelings" from its original chart for brass, featuring outstanding solos by alto saxophonist Phil Woods and guitarist Jim Hall. Lewis includes two pieces he had written for William Inge's play Natural Affection; Dolphy's fireworks on "Donnie's Theme" contrast with the easygoing "Natural Affection," which features the leader's piano and has a sudden dramatic finale. Gary McFarland contributed both "Milesign" and "Grand Encounter"; the former composition is a driving bop chart with a typically angular alto sax solo by Dolphy, while the latter piece is quirky and has a playful solo by Lewis. Schuller's rather stiff arrangement of "The Star Spangled Banner" serves as a odd but brief coda to close the record. Although there were additional records by Orchestra U.S.A., none of them match the heights of this initial effort. [Originally issued as a Colpix LP and long unavailable, this highly recommended album finally appeared as a Lone Hill Jazz CD in 2004, adding the mono takes for each selection as bonus tracks.]

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