Buddy Rich

Speak No Evil/Plays and Plays and Plays

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This fifth chapter in B.G.O.'s Buddy Rich reissue project contains two mid-'70s albums that are very different from one another in flavor, production, and material. The first of these, Speak No Evil, is one of Rich's experiments. He hired famed Chicago producer, composer, and arranger Richard Evans for the sessions and called his unit, Buddy Rich & the Big Band Machine. Momentarily taken with the sounds of Creed Taylor's CTI and the emerging jazz-funk of the day, Rich and Evans put their own spin on the music with a stellar band. Some of the soloists in this group were Jon Faddis, Steve Marcus, Kenny Barron (on Fender Rhodes), Lew Soloff, and Ross Traut. The bassist for this date -- on an electric Fender -- was Bob Cranshaw. There was also a trio of backing vocalists on some cuts! The material ranged from Evans' classic title track to covers of the Isley Brothers' "Fight the Power" (a radical, and utterly pleasing, arrangement), the Earth, Wind & Fire nugget "Yearnin' Learnin'," the Pointers' "How Long," "Games People Play," and even a medley of Gino Vanelli tunes in "Storm at Sunup" and "Love Me Now." The sound is tight, in the pocket, and full of mean grooves, intriguing colors and textures, and seriously popping horns. Evans transforms Rich's swinging jazz sound into something that was not only extremely contemporary for the time, but sounds unique today: this date would have been right at home on MPS at the time as well. It's partially the mix, since Rich's drums were mixed as part of the band rather than as as a front instrument. The latter album, Buddy Rich Plays and Plays and Plays, recorded two years later, was a much more straight-ahead big-band date with a group that came to be known as his "Class of '77." It featured a number of arrangers including Bob Mintzer, Sam Nestico, Dick Lieb, Phil Wilson, Lou Marini, and Don Menza. Soloists include Mintzer, Marcus, Steve Khan, Ross Konikoff, and Rick Stepton. Marcus and Mintzer were both Rich veterans, but there were more newcomers; all of whom were capable, hard swinging players. In other words, no weak links. Recorded live in the studio by Norman Schwartz, the session features excellent arrangements and performances of Thelonious Monk's "Round About Midnight" and Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," along with new compositions by Mintzer, Menza, and Nestico. The mix has Rich's drums way up in the mix and as was traditional, pushing the band from the front end. This date will be far more satisfying to those whose tastes run toward standard progressive big-band material, but it's Speak No Evil that is easily the more exciting of the two albums included here.

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