Clark Terry: Big Bad Band – Live In Holland 1979

The brass master is in good form in a Basie and Ellington inspired set containing a version of Mumbles that takes a parting shot at a Watergate


CT springs jauntily into the opening choruses, displaying the unmistakable trademark characteristics of his highly original style –   relaxed technical brilliance and limpid tonal purity with a bubbling flow of lyrical ideas driven by a supple and nimble swing, which seems to skip and bounce along with a cheerful joie-de-vivre entirely his own.

As a title, “Big Bad Band” (17 strong) may alarm the faint-hearted, fearing JATP roof-lifting excess. But although the BBB roars happily enough where appropriate, this is a carefully planned, varied and well-balanced album. CT  (who died in 2016, aged 94) served in both Basie’s and Ellington’s orchestras. The influence of both is discernible in the arrangements – Basie’s in the orchestrated punctuating dynamics and shouting backing riffs; Ellington’s and Strayhorn’s in the rich and sophisticated harmonic structures in the ballads.

Each track features one or more soloists, as introduced in CT’s genial announcements. (CT clearly names the opening track Étoile(s), not À Toi as listed on the sleeve, and the second track – written and arranged by Phil Woods – as Randy, not Rabdi as listed. I’ve ventured to amend this in the credits.) There are particularly commendable solo contributions from Charles Davis in Carney, (Duke’s baritone star) and Charles Williams’ tribute to Hodges in Jeeps Blues.

CT himself peaks in On The Trail (a regular favourite) with some fresh twists, and deploys exquisitely nuanced tonal clarity on flugelhorn in Don’t Speak Now. In an unexpectedly upbeat Just Squeeze Me, including a feisty vocal, there’s a nod to Dizzy Gillespie in the fast-fingering, double-time phrasing. By now, no live performance went without a version of Mumbles, CT’s affectionate and funny scat parody of old-school unintelligible blues shouts. Here it’s upbeat and updated, breaking into a lengthy unaccompanied tirade of fervent scat, building hilariously until dead-ending with the cry “Watergate!” This entertaining crowd-pleaser may well have been the closing item on the night. There’s no finale feel to the rather sudden, throw-away ending to the Take The A-Train.

Liner notes by Quincy Jones for this release pay glowing homage to CT as friend, mentor and inspiration, but there’s no background information about the session itself, or about the personnel, other than basic discography. These recordings are probably previously unissued, adding interest for collectors, but (surprisingly)  this is not mentioned.

CT was a uniquely creative artist, an exceptionally skilled and original trumpet stylist whose influence on his contemporaries was extensive and lasting. It’s a joy to hear him again on this welcome release.

Étoile(s?); Randy; On THe Trail; Don’t Speak Now; Blues All Day, Blues All Night; Carney; Rock-Skippin’ At The Blue Note; Just Squeeze Me; Jeep’s Blues; Shellgame; Mumbles; Una Mas; Take The A-Train (65.04)
Big Bad Band: CT (dir, t, flh, v) with, collectively, Dale Carney, John Melito, Bob Montgomery, Oscar Gamby (t); Al Cook, Buster Cooper, Chuck Connors, Richard Boone (tb); Chris Woods (as, f); Bill Saxton, Herman Bell (ts); Charles Williams (as); Charles Davis (bar); Charles Fox (p); Victor Sproles (b); Dave Adams (d). Hilversum Studio, Holland, 6 September 1979.
Storyville 1018529