The Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Orchestra, The Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Orchestra, Basle 1969 / Swiss Radio Days, Jazz Series Vol.4

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

One of the more underrated big bands in jazz history, the Jones-Lewis Orchestra thrilled Monday-night patrons at New York's fabled Village Vanguard for years, yet rarely capitalized on that popularity through studio recordings. This live date, broadcast over the Swiss Radio Network, catches them in their prime, during the brief tenure of illustrious tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, who heads a top-notch reed section that also includes Pepper Adams, Jerome Richardson, and Eddie Daniels. The arrangements of Thad Jones neatly blend the raucous swing of Count Basie (Jones was an alumnus of the Basie band, and briefly led it after Basie's death) and the beguiling horn harmonies of Charles Mingus (Jones, Richardson, and trombonist Jimmy Knepper were all Mingus favorites).

A date to remember from one of the most underrated big bands of all time.

A master of dynamics, Jones favored punchy, razzle-dazzle crescendos that suddenly ebb and throw the ensuing solos into intimate relief, a technique best displayed here on “The Waltz You Swang for Me.” Other must-hears are “Don't Get Sassy,” which gleefully ignores the title's admonition with a saucy fervor that finds the sweet spot between joyful impulse and taut ensemble interplay, and Jones's gliding, syncopated “Groove Merchant.” It's not all fireworks, however. The band decants the gospel of Duke Ellington's “Come Sunday” with a unique flair and the stellar rhythm section of drummer Mel Lewis, bassist Richard Davis and pianist Sir Roland Hanna are allotted extended open space at the onset of “Second Race” and “A-That's Freedom.” Finally, Hanna's elegance is on full display during his six-and-half-minute solo rendition of “Bible Story.”