Thursday, August 16, 2012

Maynard Ferguson - Chameleon (1974)


This album has a lot of personal history for me as it was the first jazz album (even though it's crossover jazz) I ever listened to. Consequently it's also the album I listened to when I realized I wanted to pursue music as a career. I would never say that Maynard's 70s material is his finest work, but it is accessible. This album is really the last before Maynard totally embraced disco and in turn commercialism in the late 70s with Conquistador. The opening title track "Chameleon" is a great take on the Herbie Hancock classic that came out earlier that year on Head Hunters. One of the highlights of the album is the following track "Gospel John," a Jeff Steinberg tune famous for its intro that reminds the listener of a preacher. "Gospel John" is also noteworthy for showcasing Maynard as a multi-instrumentalist as he plays the melody following the intro on baritone. The Randy Purcell arranged "The Way We Were" features his fine lyrical trombone work, but also shows his ability as an arranger incorporating a variety of textures and colors in his backgrounds. "La Fiesta" is a track Maynard borrowed from band alumnus Chick Corea is also one of the highlights of the album. The Rhodes piano and the horn lines sound like jazzed-up mariachis, but through the rhythmic shifts the band changes its feel to a more straight-forward jazz feel. "La Fiesta" is truly a great arrangement for its incorporation of Latin elements while maintaining a big band rhythmic feel. The last two tracks are noteworthy because Ferguson typically incorporated at least one tune into his albums that was from an earlier time or sounds like it should be. The Gershwin/Duke tune "I Can't Get Started" was made famous by Bunny Berigan in 1937 and Maynard like so many other trumpet players feels the need to record the song. Ferguson's version is different in that many of the words are altered. For instance, "Stan Kenton made me a star" shows personal history, but there's just the plain humorous lines like "I was invited to tea by the queen/Linda Lovelace." The final track and final highlight of the album is "Superbone Meets the Bad Man" an uptempo bop tune that gets its name from the instrument Maynard is playing and baritone saxophonist Bruce Johnstone's nickname. The Superbone is a combination slide/valve trombone designed by Maynard and played by himself and Don Ellis in the mid-to-late 1970s. While Maynard definitely sticks more to the valves than the slide, he and Johnstone produce some magnificent solos and a great close to an album.

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