The Thad Jones & Mel Lewis Orchestra: Monday Night & Central Park North

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This set from Beat Goes On combines two splendid sessions. On both, the band (with some small changes of personnel) shouts, roars and plays softly, seemingly without effort.

Monday Night begins with “Mornin’ Reverend”, Eddie Daniels offering an extended solo on tenor, the rhythm section and then the ensemble pushing him on. “Kids Are Pretty People”, a staple in the band’s book, is a gently swinging ballad with sonorous contributions from Knepper, underpinned by Davis, Hanna and Lewis, before the full band enters and lifts the proceedings to a higher pitch.

The highlight of the album is Bob Brookmeyer’s arrangement (and the only one not by Thad Jones) of “St. Louis Blues”. Thad’s flugel horn, Davis’s bass, Garnett Brown’s trombone, and Richardson’s alto make separate but equal contributions to the deconstructed Handy classic. The ensemble passages are exhilarating and precise. Twelve and a half minutes of pure bliss.

“The Waltz You Swang” kicks off with Hanna’s sparkly piano, Richardson on soprano playing above the ensemble, and deft punctuation from Lewis. “Say It Softly” (introduced by Thad to the Vanguard audience as “a foxtrot ballad”) begins gently before he and then Dodgion on alto float above an increasingly Latin rhythm. “The Second Race” begins with a sprightly Hanna followed by Richard Williams on muted trumpet and a swaggering Seldon Powell (with audience encouragement) standing up to a shouting brass and grooving reed section, all booted along by Davis and Lewis.

Central Park North – a justly celebrated studio album in the Jones-Lewis canon – has lost none of its blistering immediacy and subversively funky undertones over the years. “Tow Away Zone” leaps out of the speakers with tenorist Farrell, propelled by a cooking rhythm section (including two guitars), crafting an exciting solo, encouraged by shouting brass. “Quietude”, a Jones original, has contrasting tempos, with a long Hanna intro and a plangent solo from the composer.

Of the remaining tracks “Jive Samba” has a mesmeric tempo and memorable solos from Williams and Moore, with Richardson on alto bringing things to an abrupt close. Richardson also features on his own composition the medium-tempo “Groove Merchant”, with a haunting theme. An increasingly aggressive “Big Dipper” begins as a splendid and gently swinging vehicle for Jimmy Nottingham and Eddie Daniels. Last, but definitely not least, the title track is a complex ever-changing and carefully crafted) piece with solo spots by Davis, Jones, Hanna, Nottingham Richardson and Lewis.

In a perceptive liner note to this reissue Charles Waring asserts that on both albums the Jones-Lewis aggregations “come across like the Basie band pumped up on steroids [but] they knew subtlety too. Thanks to Thad Jones’ imaginative arrangements, they were doing something different in a big band context that had never been heard before”. Amen to that.

Discography
CD1: (1) [Monday Night] Mornin’ Reverend; Kids Are Pretty People; St. Louis Blues; The Waltz You “Swang” For Me; Say It Softly; The Second Race (42.54)
CD2: (2) [Central Park North] Tow Away Zone; Quietude; Jive Samba; The Groove Merchant; Big Dipper; Central Park North (37.55)

(1) Snooky Young; Jimmy Nottingham; Richard Williams; Danny Moore (t); Garnett Brown; Jimmy Cleveland; Jimmy Knepper; Cliff Heather (tb); Jerome Richardson (as, f, cl, ss); Jerry Dodgion (as, f, cl); Eddy Daniels (ts, cl); Seldon Powell (ts, f, cl); Pepper Adams (bar, cl); Richard Davis (b); Roland Hanna (p); Thad Jones (flh); Mel Lewis (d). Village Vanguard, NYC, October 1968.
(2) [Central Park North] Snooky Young; Jimmy Nottingham; Richard Williams; Danny Moore (t); Eddie Bert; Jimmy Knepper Benny Powell (tb); Cliff Heather (btb); Jerome Richardson (as, ss, as, picc); Jerry Dodgion (as, cl); Eddie Daniels (ts, cl), Joe Farrell (ts, cl); Joe Temperley (bar, bcl); Barry Galbraith; Sam Brown (g); Richard Davis (b); Roland Hanna (d); Thad Jones (flh); Mel Lewis (d). NYC, 17-18 June 1969.
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