Progressive Big Band

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The Progressive Big Band genre is for post-swing era jazz bands who incorporate more modern elements into their music. Some of these elements might include, modern extended harmonies, electronic instruments and effects, fusion based rhythms and avant-garde arrangements.

The first progressive tendencies in big band arranging begin with Duke Ellington and come to full flower in the hands of arrangers such as Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Gil Evans and Don Ellis.

progressive big band top albums

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SUN RA Angels and Demons at Play Album Cover Angels and Demons at Play
SUN RA
4.93 | 6 ratings
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CHARLES MINGUS Let My Children Hear Music Album Cover Let My Children Hear Music
CHARLES MINGUS
4.83 | 14 ratings
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ANDREW HILL Passing Ships Album Cover Passing Ships
ANDREW HILL
4.94 | 5 ratings
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DAVE HOLLAND What Goes Around Album Cover What Goes Around
DAVE HOLLAND
4.96 | 4 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 Lanquidity Album Cover Lanquidity
SUN RA
4.78 | 8 ratings
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SUN RA Space Is the Place Album Cover Space Is the Place
SUN RA
4.80 | 6 ratings
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DON ELLIS Autumn Album Cover Autumn
DON ELLIS
4.85 | 4 ratings
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SAM RIVERS Inspiration Album Cover Inspiration
SAM RIVERS
5.00 | 2 ratings
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GIL EVANS Out of the Cool Album Cover Out of the Cool
GIL EVANS
4.76 | 5 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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SUN RA The Other Side of the Sun Album Cover The Other Side of the Sun
SUN RA
4.88 | 2 ratings
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progressive big band Music Reviews

ARCHIE SHEPP Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra Live: I Hear the Sound

Live album · 2013 · Progressive Big Band
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kev rowland
On September 9th 1971 a riot broke out in Attica Prison. Five days later the riot was over, and thirty-nine people were left dead – killed by the bullets from the police and National Guard. In January the following year Archie released ‘Attica Blues’ as a tribute, combining many different styles into a big jazz orchestra. Now, more than forty years later, he has revisited this album with the Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra, and this live album was recorded over three different dates in 2012 and 2013. Archie has brought together a group of musicians who sound as if they have just recorded the original and are now taking it on the road. There is a power and grace with this recording that can sometimes be missing from those who want to show just how clever they are, with sometimes just a few playing and at others the complete band as they swing and move from one style to another, encompassing funk, gospel, and so many others, although always at the heart is jazz and blues.

The amount of musicians involved is considerable, and include Archie Shepp: tenor and soprano saxophones, voice; Amina Claudine Myers: piano, voice; Tom McClung: piano; Famoudou Don Moye: drums, congas; Reggie Washington: bass; Darryl Hall: bass (5); Pierre Durand: guitar; Stéphane Belmondo: trumpet; Izidor Leitinger: trumpet; Christophe Leloil: trumpet; Olivier Miconi: trumpet; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet (5); Sébastien Llado: trombone; Simon Sieger: trombone; Romain Morello: trombone; Michaël Ballue: trombone; Raphaël Imbert: alto saxophone; Olivier Chaussade: alto saxophone; François Théberge: tenor saxophone; Virgile Lefebvre: tenor saxophone; Jean-Philippe Scali: baritone saxophone; Manon Tenoudji: violin; Steve Duong: violin; Antoine Carlier: viola; Louise Rosbach: cello; Marion Rampal: voice; Cécile McLorin Salvant: voice. But, although there are times when the sound is of a jazz orchestra in a large hall there are others when it is far more intimate, just a few players on a small stage in a smoky backroom somewhere.

This certainly doesn’t sound as if it is a recording of today (apart from the sonic quality), but rather this is of a time gone by, and is one that I very much enjoyed experiencing.

OLIVER LAKE Wheels

Album · 2013 · Progressive Big Band
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js
Some of the most creative jazz music going down these days is coming from musician/composers working with large ensembles and Olive Lake’s recent “Wheels” for big band is no exception. Although this isn’t Lake’s first album for big band, it’s the first one I’ve been able to hear and I was immediately struck with what a unique composer and arranger he is. I’ve read other reviews of this album and people mention Ellington and other known band leaders and certainly Ellington’s tone colors are here, especially as handed down from his followers such as Mingus, Sun Ra and Henry Threadgill, but there is something entirely different going on with Lake’s approach. From Ellington to the present, big band arrangers tend to use rhythmic riffs scored for a certain section of the band that interact with riffs from other sections and so on. You get some of that on “Wheels”, but much of Oliver’s arrangements use stoic blocks of sounds moving in slow sequences, rather than the expected swingin riffs. Even the melodic material on here often consists of masses of tones stacked in thick chords that move deliberately together, and its this minimal and almost stark approach that makes “Wheels” such an intriguing and unique listen, as well as a real ground breaker when it comes to a modern take on big band arranging.

The arrangements on here are surprising and unique, but the real stars are the soloists, particularly Lake and fellow saxophonists Darius Jones and Jason Marshall. The solo style on “Wheels” is very intense and expressive with sonic flights into the upper realms of the avant-garde. Some soloists go it alone, while there are also plenty of sections for free group interplay, including a couple sections where the whole orchestra goes off at once as in the freedom heyday of the late 60s. On many tunes, Lake’s arranged blunt tone colors for the band are not much more than a brief outline so that the improvisers can have as much freedom as possible.

As mentioned earlier, much of the arrangements on here are very sparse and aescetic and more similar to an avant-garde concert hall 3rd stream type creation, but there are couple tunes that get on the more funky side of things. “Philly Blues” is your Monk flavored slightly off-kilter hard bop jam and “The Whole World” is an Outkast cover that sounds like the sort of exaggerated circus like tune favored by guys like Mingus or Henry Threadgill. The middle section of the “Wheels Suite” presents a ballad like tune, but it too sounds strangely reduced to its barest elements.

It took me a little while to get used to Lake’s approach on “Wheels”, but the more I listen, the more I’m interested. This is top notch current jazz that often borders on the avant-garde, but is always handled with a modern sophistication and cool. Possibly “Wheels” is the missing link in an unlikely connection between Ellington’s smooth elegance and Xennakis’ blunt constructions.

ARCHIE SHEPP Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra Live: I Hear the Sound

Live album · 2013 · Progressive Big Band
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snobb
The live Attica Blues Orchestra album opens just as the "Attica Blues" album, released more than forty years ago, sounded during its first seconds - with a deep funky bass line. Four decades changed little here - song after song, this suite sounds as if its studio version recording was just finished and Shepp moved out to tour with his big band.

Archie Shepp's "Attica Blues" studio album, recorded in 1972, was one of his best big orchestra works ever, but in the time of its release was often attacked by his old fans because it contained less of the "angry man's new thing" Archie was so known for during late 60s and early 70s. Still, being politically sharp as any of Shepp's early releases (recorded just several months after authorities ended the Attica prison uprising by massacring 43), musically it contains blues, gospel and RnB with orchestral arrangements spiced up with Shepp's unorthodox saxophone soloing.

Four decades later, Shepp formed the "Attica Blues Orchestra" with some veterans (pianist and vocalist Amina Claudina Myers, Art Ensemble of Chicgo percussionist Famoudou Don Moye, etc) and a big team of young French brass and strings musicians. The live "Attica Blues" version was recorded in 2012 and 2013 during concerts in France and sounds surprisingly close to its original version after all these decades. Shepp's vocals are strong and new singer Cécile McLorin-Salvant is excellent, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is another one of this album's heroes.

Shepp doesn't open new horizons with this album, but he adds a second life to great and under-valued material, which sounds more mature and surprisingly fresh even today. Not pure jazz, and really different from the "Magic Of Ju-Ju", this album perfectly illustrates a different side of Shepp's musical personality, and it's a great one.

CHRIS MCGREGOR En concert a Banlieues Bleues (with Archie Shepp)

Live album · 1989 · Progressive Big Band
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snobb
South Africa-born son of Scottish church missioner, pianist Chris McGregor, made his name after his relocation to London and playing for some years a, quite unique for the time, mix of soulful South African tunes, American free jazz and Canterbury scene elements with his Brotherhood Of Breath big band. In 1989, his orchestra toured Europe with special guest American sax player Archie Shepp, their concert in Paris was recorded and released on the tiny French label 52 Rue Est.

"En Concert a Banlieues Bleues" is a strange recording. The sound quality is not the best, but acceptable for a live festival recording. The whole concert does not sound like one collective work though - its more similar to one of those fest nights when a few artists share the stage and (probably for the first time ever) play a few songs together. Brotherhood of Breath, improved with South African singer Sonti Mndebele (who worked as back-up vocalist for Donna Summer, Tina Turner, Paul Simon, Sting and many others) plays well orchestrated African jazz with a stronger then usual African element (particularly Sonti Mndebele's singing techniques), at the same time, Shepp stays rooted in his hard bop. No serious collaboration between the two quite different musical genres could be found, so the better moments are those when the band or Shepp are just soloing alone.

And - there is also an out of tune piano all night long. They say Chris had wanted to stop the release of the album, but it still would have been released because of contractual obligations. Some months later, after "En Concert a Banlieues Bleues" was released, Chris fell ill on tour and died so it stays his last album released (lots of material was released posthumously though).

In all, not the album for McGregor or Shepp newcomers, but it could be an interesting release for serious fans of both artists.

DUKE ELLINGTON A Drum Is a Woman

Album · 1957 · Progressive Big Band
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js
“A Drum is a Woman” is a musical story, put together by Duke Ellington, that was also used for a television special back in the mid-50s. This is an odd one in the Duke’s vast discography, and some critics are fairly dismissive of it, but to those who like Ellington’s more off-the-wall creative work, and those who just like odd musical creations, there’s easily enough here to at least arouse your curiosity. Although the story is presented with humor and a light attitude, that I assume would also appeal to the very young, its an important story about the origins of jazz and Duke should get a lot of credit for preserving this history in an appealing fable. The two main characters in the story are Carribee Joe, the drum playing jungle man who represents the African/West Indian roots of jazz, and Madame Zajj, the audacious woman/drum who is jazz herself. As the story unfolds, Zajj travels to many places; New Orleans (Buddy Bolden and Congo Square), New York (Be-bop), Paris and even outer space, and although she meets other “Joes”, she always longs to see her Carribee Joe again, as true today as it was then.

A lot of this album is taken up with narration and the ‘cute’ little songs that tell the story, and that’s what a lot of people complain about, but although Duke’s orchestra is a bit limited on here, what they do play is excellent and very original. Probably Ellington gladly took on creations like this because it gave him a break from writing dance tunes and gave him a chance to show off his classical level writing and arranging skills. Likewise, his musicians respond to cues for solos, that portray personality, with much humor and virtuoso creativity. As can happen in the best soundtracks, a lot of the music on here is not of any particular genre, but is just the right hybrid creation that is needed for that moment. Some of the most striking moments happen when operatic soprano Margaret Tynes sings on top of the full band’s African processions, an unheard of sound in the mid-50s, and probably a big influence on future exotic types like Sun Ra and Les Baxter. For those looking for an extended musical passage that really shows off what the band can do, the payoff finally comes on side two with “Ballet of the Flying Saucers”, an ambitious number that combines classical style development with swingin jazz energy that builds to a big ending. You can hear the future of 70s big band experimenters like Don Ellis and 3rd stream rockers like ELP on this one.

The final ingredient that makes “A Drum is a Woman” so appealing is Duke Ellington’s story, and his very witty vocal delivery. This was still back when the golden age of radio had lifted the art of vocal narration to a high level that would soon decline during the age of TV. Having said all that, the main problem with this record is the fact that it centers around a story, and once you know the story, repeat listens are less interesting. I have a lot of respect for this album, but I probably won’t be listening to it again for a while, except maybe that Flaying Saucer track. All the same, Duke has preserved his wisdom for the ages on this one, jazz may go anywhere and pick up any influence, but it finds replenishment in the African drum.

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