The Buddy Rich Big Band of the late '70s were one of the more impressive road units on tour, and not because they were loaded with all-stars. Rich was like a talent scout, mining the minor leagues for flexible players who could read charts well, blow long and strong, and keep up with the drummer's still estimable energy and stamina. Rich also employed many talented writers and arrangers to feed the band's imagination, and kept a contemporary edge in the music without completely selling out to the disco fad of the time. Well, there is one ill-fated track, "Kong," that kowtows to the dancin' fools, but for the most part this is the hard-swinging jazz that Rich's listeners expected, and he delivered. The band was evolving in personnel, though steady right-hand tenor saxophone soloist Steve Marcus was still on hand to plow through the middle of tunes and delight audiences. A young Bob Mintzer, tripling as arranger, composer, and tenor saxophonist, joined the band, stealing much thunder from Marcus, and his inclusion is telling on this recording. He has a hand in four of the nine selections as a writer, and solos much more than Marcus. Though it was impossible to upstage Rich, it seems this is as much Mintzer's band as anyone's, and is a prelude to the big-band recordings he would do on his own aside from his work with the Yellowjackets. Rich always prided himself as a great bop and hard bop drummer, and his attitude and drive are exemplified on two prime cuts: the Sam Nestico number "Ya Gotta Try," filled with familiar hooks, jabs, and roaring shout choruses with Mintzer and Marcus soloing their lungs out; and the all-time killer "No Jive," starting with Rich on hi-hat and clave accents, then contrasting shimmering tones and brash, loud, funky horn declarations, followed by a solid drum solo as only the limber drummer could play. The faded-in track "Time Out," written by Don Menza, features a fine trumpet section with Dave Stahl and Ross Konikoff, saturated with the flowing, back-and-forth, jumping counterpoint that makes big-band jazz so consistently delicious. There are toned-down treatments of "Lush Life" and "'Round About Midnight," the former with a double-time section and a fine solo from trombonist Rick Stepton, while Marcus leads out during an expanded chart on the textbook Thelonious Monk classic, both study-hall projects for all student big bands. Mintzer contributes the outrageous "No Jive," the weird "Kong," the simple blues shuffle "Party Time" with horn blasts plus a solo from trumpeter John Marshall, and the curiously titled "Tales of Rhoda Rat" with its funkier commercial facade combining slightly Latin suggestions on a simple, breezy arrangement. Overall one of the better Buddy Rich recordings of the '70s despite the slight missteps, Buddy Rich Plays and Plays and Plays is a perfectly appropriate title for this vital, virile, and visceral document of the legendary drummer's music in the last decade of his life.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos