The Way: Music of Slide Hampton

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

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The Way: Music of Slide Hampton Review

by Ken Dryden

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is directly descended from the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, continuing even after the departure of Jones for Europe in 1979 and the death of Lewis in 1990, with pianist Jim McNeely taking over the band in 1997. The orchestra has continued to stay fresh with their constant exploration of new charts. One of the previous members of the original Jones-Lewis band, trombonist Slide Hampton, serves as the arranger and guest conductor for these December 2003 sessions. Hampton's four part "Inspiration: Suite for Jazz Orchestra" has John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" as its underlying theme. It is most apparent in "One for Thad," which features strong solos by tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama and trumpeter Scott Wendholt. The underlying presence of "Giant Steps" is less apparent in "Strayhorn," which is unusual for featuring three separate flute soloists (Dick Oatts, Billy Drewes, and Rich Perry). The listener's ears are tested with Hampton's richly textured "Gil." Coltrane's influence returns to the forefront in the brisk concluding segment "Dameron," adding fine solos by Perry (on tenor sax) and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. Hampton's other contributions also merit praise, especially "The Way" and "Frame for the Blues," the latter adding the composer's brilliant trombone to the band and trading licks with fellow trombonist Jason Jackson. With new material like Hampton's being added to the vast repertoire of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, this is one big band that should be around for decades to come.

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