Monday, June 18, 2012

Maynard Ferguson - A Message from Birdland (1960)

From the first thirty seconds of the album where Maynard's unmistakable voice can be heard counting off an arrangement of Sonny Rollin's "Oleo" to the first notes of the unison melody, the listener can be sure that this a fantastic album. About half of this album is original material, while the other material is stuff of the day in addition to charts from Maynard's past. One such chart "Stella by Starlight" was probably introduced to Maynard during his days with Stan Kenton. Fans of the 70s "Disco Maynard" may have a hard time enjoying this, but nonetheless this is the period of his best material. Normally I would preface this statement with "in my own opinion," but this is undoubtedly his best material. This is the era of Maynard playing beautiful melodies in the high register with actual taste. Sure it didn't give chart toppers or commercial appeal, but it doesn't rely solely on his ability to play high notes with "kiss-offs." It is also important to mention that Maynard's tradition of having great musical arrangers that he referred to as musical directors began. Willie Maiden is a relatively unknown person in jazz history, yet his arrangements and original material on "Back in the Satellite Again" and "Three More Foxes" is of the highest quality. It is a shame that Maiden is not a more well known figure or that he died at the early age of 48 in 1976 and did not have a chance to make a bigger name for himself. There's also a fantastic arranger and performer in Slide Hampton whose contribution "The Mark of Jazz" is definitely one of the highlights of the album showing off the virtuosity of both himself and Maynard. Even with the high quality of the album, its hard to believe its live. To the nearly inaudible note in "Blue Birdland," this album almost sounds too good to be live.