Sunday, December 2, 2012
Maynard Ferguson - Conquistador (1977)
Definitely Maynard's most successful album even if critically it falls short. Maynard was not immune to Columbia's wishes to relinquish quite a bit of artistic control and "cross over" in order to sell more records. Conquistador has quite the star-studded cast from the studio players from people like George Benson and Bob James. Conquistador has a sound that was pretty synonymous with CTI Records in the early 70s and then duplicated by nearly every label by the middle of the decade. The album opens with Maynard's #28 hit "Gonna Fly Now," a high note excursion into the Rocky theme. The track showcases Maynard's command of the upper register, but in this reviewer's opinion it's not really tasteful. "Mister Mellow" is a track that showcases George Benson and is one of the stronger tracks on the album. Once you get past the background vocals, the track is a great solo vehicle for Benson and Maynard within a laidback funk groove. Interestingly enough, Maynard's solo utilizes much more of the lower register than most of the other album and consequently while it is on of the most "studio" tracks on the album, it's definitely one of the more genuine tracks. "Theme from Star Trek," is another attempt by Maynard to capitalize on the pop culture on his time. That being said, this track showcases Maynard's control of his instrument much more so than "Gonna Fly Now," due to the fact that he plays the entirely melody not just a solo. This is especially apparent when he plays "whistle tones" at the close of the song when the track is fading out. "Conquistador," the title track of the album is a collaboration between Maynard and Jay Chattaway. This track is not as Spanish sounding as Sketches of Spain or even some tracks on Maynard's Carnival album, but it is an interesting mixing of the aria style of trumpet playing Maynard is associated with at this point in his career and funk elements. It's hard not to get past the period sound of this particular track, maybe even more so than some of the novelty material on the album. "Soar Like an Eagle" is a Bob James tune that features the author and Maynard. I have similar opinions on this track as I did "Mister Mellow." It may have elements indicative of the period such as heavy electronics and studio orchestra accompaniment, but it is one of the more jazz oriented tracks. I for one think that the color of the synthesizer mixed with the flute is very interesting. James takes a memorable solo on the Fender Rhodes after Maynard's foray into the high register, which breaks up the solos on the track. "The Fly" is really the only uptempo track on the whole album and is a great close the album. The accented unison sax melody over the funky bass groove is picked up by the ensemble and then leads into an "aria-like" solo by Maynard. This track gets its name most likely from the "fly-like" synthesizer sound which was most likely the work of Bob James. This album is interesting for its melding of the big band with some of the electronic and studio sounds of the day, but I wouldn't say it was the highlight of Maynard's career. Sure, it was his most financially successful period, but critically speaking his Roulette material from the 1950s is far superior as jazz music.