Progressive Big Band

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There are two big band genres at JMA; Big Band and Progressive Big Band. Although the term "progressive" might imply that the latter genre is more demanding and complex than the former, this is not always the case. Instead, Progressive Big Band is a term developed in the 1950s to refer to big band music that was not meant for dancing and entertainment, but instead was meant for listening to in a manner more similar to concert hall music. Other than that, the term "progressive" does not imply any sort of definable musical superiority.

Music found in the Progressive Big Band genre at JMA may have ambitions similar to lengthy concert hall pieces, and may also feature elements of the avant-garde and other modern tendencies. The Progressive Big Band genre begins with some extended works by Duke Ellington in the 1940s. Other early pioneers in this genre include; Stan Kenton, Sun Ra, David Amram, Gil Evans, Toshiko Akyoshi, Carla Bley, Don Ellis and others.

progressive big band top albums

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CHARLES MINGUS The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Album Cover The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
CHARLES MINGUS
4.77 | 59 ratings
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ANDREW HILL Passing Ships Album Cover Passing Ships
ANDREW HILL
4.75 | 7 ratings
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SUN RA Angels and Demons at Play Album Cover Angels and Demons at Play
SUN RA
4.78 | 6 ratings
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TOSHIKO AKIYOSHI Long Yellow Road Album Cover Long Yellow Road
TOSHIKO AKIYOSHI
5.00 | 3 ratings
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SUN RA Space Is the Place Album Cover Space Is the Place
SUN RA
4.69 | 7 ratings
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DUKE ELLINGTON Black, Brown and Beige Album Cover Black, Brown and Beige
DUKE ELLINGTON
4.75 | 4 ratings
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FLAT EARTH SOCIETY 13 Album Cover 13
FLAT EARTH SOCIETY
4.83 | 3 ratings
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CHARLES MINGUS Let My Children Hear Music Album Cover Let My Children Hear Music
CHARLES MINGUS
4.51 | 16 ratings
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DON ELLIS Live at Monterrey Album Cover Live at Monterrey
DON ELLIS
4.48 | 5 ratings
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GIL EVANS Out of the Cool Album Cover Out of the Cool
GIL EVANS
4.44 | 6 ratings
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SUN RA Lanquidity Album Cover Lanquidity
SUN RA
4.34 | 10 ratings
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FLAT EARTH SOCIETY Psychoscout Album Cover Psychoscout
FLAT EARTH SOCIETY
4.50 | 3 ratings
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This list is in progress since the site is new. We invite all logged in members to use the "quick rating" widget (stars bellow album covers) or post full reviews to increase the weight of your rating in the global average value (see FAQ for more details). Enjoy JMA!

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Big Bands Live
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All Can Work
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Origin Suite
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The Falling Dream
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Live at the Spotted Dog
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progressive big band Music Reviews

MICA BETHEA Suite Theory

Album · 2018 · Progressive Big Band
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js
For the modern big band enthusiast who wants to keep up with what’s new, there is a name you should know if you don’t already, and that is Mica Bethea. Mica released his first big band album back in 2011, but then nothing until last year’s “Stage n’ Studio”, followed quickly by this year’s “Suite Theory”. What a difference a year makes as Mica’s new one shows him starting to really evolve and develop as a writer and arranger. “Stage n’ Studio” is a good CD and it pulled positive reviews, but on this new one, for the first time, Bethea has written every composition himself, and his compositions have grown in complexity and ambition. “Suite Theory” is a four movement composition that attempts to illustrate Mica’s life starting from a carefree young man to a post-car accident (entirely not his fault) quadriplegic, through post-accident depression, and finally to a life reaffirming decision to press on with his work as a composer. Certainly these are all vividly personal events that would make one reach deep into one’s creativity.

Movement one, “Crystal Clear”, is a swingin number that seems to reference Ellington as Mica’s opening melody is passed around among the various band sections as they introduce endless variations on the opening theme. The many wide open solos that follow continue the melodic variance. Movement two, “Destiny’s Boat”, deals with waking up in a hospital bed with one’s life changed in ways that no one could possibly anticipate. This track is more mysterious and the odd colorful orchestrations recall Herbie Hancock’s Sextet, or his “Speak Like a Child” album. Todd Guidice delivers a killer sax solo on this one, which Bethea liked so much that he closes the CD with a second take of this movement so that Todd could take his solo even further out. Movement three, “Meniscus”, carries an Afro-Cuban influence with more grooving solos. The final movement, “Guardian of Forever”, features long complex rapid unison horn lines that fall in between neo-bebop and an over the top prog rock arrangement. The rockin element is pushed by James Hogan’s guitar solo that is part earthy blues rock and part soaring Allan Holdsworth style fusion.

Modern big band fans need to take note, Mica Bethea is one that you need to check out as he looks to be in this for the long haul. Its truly impressive how “Suite Theory” has shown such growth in the areas of composition and arrangement, but if there is anything I miss from his previous album, it’s the hardcore funk of his “Hang Up Your Hang Ups” cover, and the neo-classical melody of “Birth Rite”. Given the strength of these last two albums, it should be interesting to see what Micah comes up with next, hopefully he won’t keep us waiting too long.

ED PALERMO The Adventures Of Zodd Zundgren

Album · 2017 · Progressive Big Band
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kev rowland
There is no doubt in my mind, and also in that of many others, that two of the most important musicians to come out of America in the Sixties were Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren. They both had/have a unique take on music, and were never afraid to follow their own paths and do exactly what they wanted. I was lucky enough to see Todd in concert, when he made his first appearance on NZ soil a few years ago and he was incredible, but sadly only really started investigating Zappa in the last five years or so, long after his passing. Ed Palermo has now brought together two major influences from his high school years, and has created the album ‘The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren’, which is a homage to both of them. Here we have 25 songs, from either Zappa or Rundgren, fully arranged for his big band. Some are treated as instrumentals, while others do have wonderfully laid-back vocals, and the result is an album that captures the spirit of both of these musicians, and is absolutely essential to anyone who has ever remotely enjoyed their music.

Zappa’s soaring fanfare “Peaches En Regalia” is inspirational, with a particularly eloquent alto sax solo by Cliff Lyons, while a brisk and forthright version of Rundgren’s “Influenza” showcases violinist Katie Jacoby, Palermo reaches deep into the Rundgren songbook for “Kiddie Boy,” a stinging blues from 1969’s ‘Nazz Nazz’. Drawing from the original horn arrangement, Palermo displays some impressive guitar work on a vehicle for Bruce McDaniel’s blue-eye vocals. Napoleon Murphy Brock delivers a poker-faced rendition of Zappa’s surreal “Montana”, (one of my personal favourites, both as the original and on the album) and McDaniel and Brock join forces on Rundgren’s deliriously silly “Emperor of the Highway”.

I really do feel that I could rave about this album for hours, with numbers such as “Song of the Viking” (Todd) just superb with an introductory arrangement for harpsichord and tuba that is inspired. The original was on the classic ‘Something/Anything’, and one has to say that playing one after the other I actually prefer the new version! Apparently Rundgren has also given this release his seal of approval, as I saw some photos on Facebook the other day of him attending one of the gigs promoting this, and having his photo taken with the band. This is an essential purchase, as is the case with many of Cuneiform’s albums.

HYESEON HONG JAZZ ORCHESTRA EE-YA-GI

Album · 2017 · Progressive Big Band
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js
On first listen you will find it hard to believe that “EE-YA-GI” is only the first album released by big band leader Hyeson Hong. Such a well developed approach to arranging is rare with a debut recording, but truth be told, Hyeson is hardly a newbie as she has been leading ensembles in both Korea and New York City for some time now. Its only appropriate that she has finally been given a chance to share her sophisticated writing and arranging with the rest of the world. There are seven tracks on “EE-YA-GI”, and each one stands as their own separate colorful world of sounds and melodies. Hong’s approach is rooted in the modern big band sounds of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, plus some exotic colors reminiscent of Don Ellis, some modern 3rd stream influence ala Marie Schneider, and even some sophisticated pop sass in a vein similar to Quincy Jones. To all this Hong often adds melodies taken from her native Korea, the end result is an infinitely interesting orchestral extravaganza that is all her own. The talented 18 piece orchestra of New Yorkers that Hong leads on her debut album is accented by Marie Schneider alumna such as Rich Perry on tenor sax and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. The wordless vocals of EJ Park adds much exotic color to many of the melodies, and Korean vocalist, Subin Park, leads “Boat Song” with a traditional ‘Chang’ song.

The aforementioned “Boat Song” probably carries the most Korean flavor, while album opener, “Harvest Dance”, also displays much melodic content from Hong’s homeland. “Disappearing into Foam” and “Love Song” are melodic and romantic, while “Trash Digging Queen” (an ode to Hyeseon’s misbehaving pet dog), has a hectic and almost comical arrangement that features constantly shifting rhythms. Possibly an album highlight though is “Para Mi Arrigo Distante”, which features a rib-sticking melody that recalls some of Quincy Jones best work in the 60s. Modern big band enthusiasts take note, “EE-YA-GI” is complex and challenging, but also fun and buoyant too. Such an excellent balance, lets hope there will be many more albums from Hyeseon Hong in the near future.

SUN RA Jazz by Sun Ra Vol.1 (aka Sun Song)

Album · 1957 · Progressive Big Band
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siLLy puPPy
Although he was born a mere earthling named Herman Poole Blount in the unassuming US state of Alabama in 1914, the future jazz master would claim to have had a visionary experience that transported him to Saturn and in the process transmogrified his very being into the more familiar musical legend SUN RA. He claims this happened around 1936 which is the period when the solar system was beginning its transformation from a third to fourth density process so certain carbon-based lifeforms very well could have had their DNA amplified in the process. Whatever the case, SUN RA was different than the rest and like all good aliens kept his secret identity well under wraps for the the next few decades while playing with the likes of Coleman Hawkins and Fletcher Henderson just to name a couple of the big talents of the 40s. Come the 1950s though and SUN RA was finally born (short for Le Sony’r Ra) and his Saturnian visions were allowed to take control. Although RA would skirt through the 50s somewhat under the radar fitting well into the world of hard bop and progressive big band, even at that stage he was somewhat of a fish out of water leaving his indelible stamp of idiosyncrasies on the jazz world.

Finally in 1957 the first SUN RA album was released although many other tracks were recorded dating back to the late 40s which would not be released until 1973’s compilation album “Deep Purple” (aka “Dreams Come True”) let them out of the vaults. Upon first pressing this debut was titled JAZZ BY SUN RA and appeared on the short-lived Transition Records and very much in a limited quantity complete with an extensive booklet of photos and liner notes. Ten years later many of the early recordings were purchased by Delmark Records and when this album was re-released in 1967 it was given the new title SUN SONG which it has been known as ever since. While both releases were faithful with tracks remaining in the same order, a feat not much adhered to in the early jazz years, the extra track “Swing A Little Taste” was added when a CD reissue finally arose in 1991. Even at this early stage SUN RA was calling his musical army of musicians THE ARKESTRA and incorporating strange unorthodox sounds, beats and rhythms to his take on jazz.

JAZZ BY SUN RA / SUN SONG shows a well-seasoned artist who was already an accomplished band leader and although his full alien potentials hadn’t quite drifted to the esoteric and space induced levels of the 60s, there is a lot that emerged askew from the normal status quo of late 50s bop and big band jazz. The ARKESTRA at this point consisted of a ten piece playing behind the great RA himself. Rhythmically and stylistically SUN SONG comes off mostly as a hard bop jazz ride but performed in big band style with the ensemble pumping out a parade of sax, trumpet and trombone riffs in a syncopated improvisational setting of swing. However, despite the first upbeat track ushering in a big band type of feel, the second “Call For All Demons” displays RA’s love of percussion hitherto unknown in the jazz world borrowing more from traditional African percussive rhythms than anything from the jazz scene of the day but even as the track begins sounding like something totally outside of the jazz world, the ARKESTRA effortlessly adapts the big band swing sound around these complex rhythms and intricate time signature workouts complete with RA’s jazz piano runs.

SUN SONG was produced by Tom Wilson, who at the time was a complete unknown in the music biz but went on to produce other top notch 60s acts such as Frank Zappa, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and even the Velvet Underground. While SUN SONG was not the album that made the great SUN RA stand out from his contemporaries in hind site it should have since it offers in plain site a completely new way of mixing rhythms, harmonies and dynamics shaded with jazz instrumentation and big band orthodoxies. SUN SONG is widely considered the most accessible SUN RA release where he showed he can play by the rules before he really went for it and then broke them. Far from struggling to fit into the then popular big band world of the era, SUN RA actually proves he can keep up with the greats of the era and throw in a multitude of his own ideas in the process. SUN SONG ranges from the upbeat swinging introductory track to the more intimate danceable numbers such as “Possession.” While not the appropriate place to begin to explore SUN RA’s most extraterrestrial musical offerings, SUN SONG / JAZZ BY SUN RA is an excellent place to hear how much of what would come to be was slowly unleashing itself within a more orthodox big band jazz context.

MILES DAVIS Facets (CBS France)

Boxset / Compilation · 1965 · Progressive Big Band
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js
An interesting obscurity in the Miles Davis discography, I would imagine even some of the most ambitious Miles collectors do not have the compilation “Facets Number 1” in their collection, which is a shame because this is an outstanding collection of tracks, and most surprising of all, none of these tracks appear on any Miles Davis albums. Arrangements and orchestrations are a big part of this collection, with six cuts featuring a big band ensemble, two more played by a sextet, and finally two more performed by a quintet. As for the source of these recordings, four tracks come from Michael Legrand’s ‘Jazz’ album, two are from a Jazz and Classical Music Society compilation called “Music for Brass”, and the rest come from various compilations released in the mid 50s and early 60s. The one thing all these tracks have in common is that they all feature great solo work from Miles, who was at the top of his game during this time.

Side one opens with two tracks from a sextet that features the young and exuberant Wayne Shorter, as well as the humorous and sarcastic lyrics and vocals of Bob Dorough on the second track. These two are followed by two more high energy cuts with a quintet that features John Coltrane on tenor. Side one closes out with a lengthy experimental 3rd stream creation from John Lewis. Side two opens with four tracks from Michael Legrand’s jazz album with Miles. Michael is a master of 50-60s exotic orchestration on the level of Quincy Jones and Les Baxter. On an album of great songs, these four may be the best. The album closes out with another lengthy 3rd Stream excursion, this time from J J Johnson.

Creative, witty and energetic, “Facets” has it all. Although Miles continued to come up with creative musical concepts for the rest of his career, his actual playing and performance on the trumpet were at a peak during this time period. I doubt this compilation will ever come out on CD, so your best chance of finding a copy will be at used record stores or from online sellers.

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

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