Liner Note Authors: Charles Waring; Ira Gitler; Mel Lewis; Thad Jones.
Recording information: A & R Studios, New York, NY.
The U.K. label BGO compiled three stellar albums by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra dating from 1966 and 1967: their debut, Presenting the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Live at the Village Vanguard, and The Big Band Sounds with Miss Ruth Brown. The band began with a group of session players informally gathering at a local N.Y. bar to jam. They eventually coalesced into a crack unit that was able to seamlessly meld big-band swing, bebop, and hard bop in a harmonically rich, rhythmically complex, hard-swinging music, driven by Lewis' unique drum kit style and Thad Jones' unique compositional and arranging skills. They played their first gig on a Monday night at the Village Vanguard -- at that time they were closed on Mondays. It became a regular engagement for the group shortly thereafter. Presenting was recorded in 1966 and featured a fine program of Jones originals; his writing and arranging skills were wildly advanced, and intellectually stimulating for players while simultaneously being dramatic and extremely dynamic, which made for enjoyable listening. The evidence for this is heard on Live at the Village Vanguard, recorded in 1967 after the group had been together for just under a year. Check the opening "Little Pixie" near the end of disc one that begins as a typical big-band groover and becomes a hard bop stomper, with ringing layers of horns and galloping drums. For evidence of the intellectual, check disc two's winding, labyrinthine brass against Jones' trumpet in "Samba con Gertchu." As bright and seductive as the horns are, the rhythm section combines bossa, samba, Afro-Cuban son, and bop in a seamless meld. Disc two closes with Brown fronting the band. While this might seem like a put-off after the exhilaration of the first two albums, it's anything but. Once more, the genius of Jones' charts not only supports the vocalist in a unique manner, but creates an irresistible backdrop of fingerpopping grooves around her phrasing. The best examples are in the uptempo "Yes Sir, That's My Baby," "Black Coffee," which begins as a tone poem and slips almost imperceptibly into a blues, the big-band soul of "You Won't Let Me Go," and the sultry, strutting closer "Fine Brown Frame." The remastered sound is warm, balanced, and dynamically rich, offering a fine reminder of how great this outfit was. ~ Thom Jurek
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