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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SUN RA Space Is the Place Album Cover Space Is the Place
SUN RA
4.86 | 7 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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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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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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progressive big band Music Reviews

DUKE ELLINGTON Soul Call

Live album · 1967 · Progressive Big Band
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js
The lengthy opening cut to this album would make a great subject for one of those blindfold tests. Who are we listening to here … Mingus … Sun Ra? Julius Hemphill or the Art Ensemble of Chicago with a few guests might have been good guesses too, but they weren’t on the scene yet when this album came out. All of those previously mentioned artists would be glad to point out that Duke Ellington was a major influence on them, and on the excursion called “La Plus Belle Africaine” from Ellington’s “Soul Call”, its clear, at least in the case of Mingus and Sun Ra, that influence may have come full circle. The lengthy “Belle African” opens with some jagged African lines on the piano and drums before a massive horn attack announces the main theme, Mingus fans will recognize the base power of this simple line. As this song snakes along with a relaxed and sometimes dissonant African hum, John Lamb plays a dronish solo on the bowed double bass and Harry Carney follows with a bluesy solo on the baritone pushed by extra horn arrangements and more jagged piano from Ellington. When things get a little more quiet again, Jimmy Hamilton enters with a sublime snake-charmer solo on the clarinet that sounds more like Rimsky-Korsakov’s old school exoticism than jazz. Its one more of those odd juxtapositions of the old and the new that make this album unique.

The opener is the highlight, but the rest of the album is no slouch either, and longtime fans may find the band a little easier to recognize now too, ha. Side one closes with “West Indian Pancake”, an up-tempo number with a syncopated Carribean rhythm, and an extended solo for Paul Gonsalves. Side two opens with the high speed bop of “Soul Call”, which is followed by the well known vehicle for drummer Sam Woodyard’s soloing, “Skin Deep”. The album closes with “Jam with Sam”, a fast paced track which allows Duke a chance to announce soloists while they take a quick few bars, its good cheezy fun and played with chaotic abandon by the band. Along with the great music on “Soul Call“, you also get Duke’s discreetly funny ‘charming’ in between song patter that veers between sarcastically suave and borderline self satire. His lines can contain sexual and racial innuendo designed to entertain his band-mates and sail right over the heads of his audience. The crowd noise seems to be a mix of real and canned supplement.

Ellington fans will certainly enjoy this, but particularly those who like some of his more unusual output. Fans of odd albums, such as Sun Ra’s “Angels and Demons at Play”, that mix old and new elements in jazz, might want to give this a shot too. There is also a CD re-issue of this LP available that features many additional tracks.

SUN RA Space Is the Place

Album · 1973 · Progressive Big Band
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siLLy puPPy
Donning a tripped out headpiece and looking like a crazed cult leader flagging down the next comet to ride to another world, SUN RA takes his Astro Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra to strange musical places on this one-of-a-kind journey of excess called SPACE IS THE PLACE. Despite the name this is no space jazz or ambient album. This is some unusually unorthodox big band music here. First flight takes us to the 21 minute plus title track which sees the entire Arkestra taking turns gleefully shouting out the mantra “SPACE IS THE PLACE!” It is a fun and playful salute to the outer and inner galaxies that takes us on a parade through a minimalist rotisserie of strange variations throughout its entire run.

After that party is over we are suddenly plunged back to what sounds like a piano bar on the second track “Images.” It's a nice mellow track that is followed by another slightly more upbeat track called “Discipline.” Together these Earthly tracks bely the strangeness that is to come. Although they sound like more traditional jazz pieces, SUN RA is a master of mixing different styles of jazz with African drumming patterns which creates a totally unique and bizarre effect.

Time to head to space again with the avant-jazz sounds of “Sea Of Sounds.” This frenetic freaky piece is really out there and vaguely reminds me of the spastic horn solos of John Zorn, only this full Arkestra succeeds in weaving a spacey tripped-out tapestry of strange riffs that sound completely random but after close inspection patterns can be discerned as the instruments take turns emphasizing them. The next tripped-out musical outburst is the closer “Rocket Number Nine.” Here we get some strange keyboard solos that truly must have been channeled by aliens.

I have only heard a handful of SUN RA albums and this one is my favorite so far. Clearly this album shows me that this strange masterful musician is one of the great under-the-radar musical geniuses in musical history. His prolific output is daunting but after hearing masterpieces like this, it only makes me want to dive right in and see what other cosmic craziness awaits discovery.

TOSHIYUKI MIYAMA & THE NEW HERD Canto Of Libra

Album · 1970 · Progressive Big Band
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snobb
Japanese reeds player and orchestra leader Toshiyuki Miyama led fashionable at the time big band starting from mid 60s.Hits-oriented orchestra played everything from big band arrangements of pop-songs to Beatles covers,etc, released some albums incl. some commercial releases without artists name on the cover.Being flexible leader Toshiyuki tried to keep his music on the top of the day's fashion.

Quite surprisingly, Japanese musical scene have been taken by storm by few Japanese free jazz expatriates,returned back from States in 1968-69. Free jazz became most fashionable music for two or three years ahead. Toshiyuki reacted immediately, turning his jazz-rock orchestra (in late 60s he switched from orchestrated pop-tunes to rock covers,adding electric guitarist)towards experimental free sound.

His New Herd was improved by one of the leader of new fashion pianist Masahiko Satoh and new collective recorded in 1970 first ever free-jazz orchestra album in Japan. To be honest, music on the album is quite strange - it often sounds like orchestra tries hard to play "new thing" without actual knowledge what it really is.

Guest pianist Masahiko Satoh (he will become a star just some months later)wrote five-piece suite,which combines elements of modern creative avantgarde,jazz fusion and free improvisation,all spiced with brassy big band arrangements and fashionable rock-jazz electric guitars soloing.Some parts are obviously over-arranged with massive brass section's sound (four trumpets,four trombones,five saxophones), another sound close to minimalist avantgarde. Masahiko Satoh plays piano together with regular orchestra pianist (Miyama will use this double-piano scheme in his orchestra for some upcoming years). Surprisingly, level of adventurousness is so high that as rule music doesn't sound as raw or chaotic as one could expect.

Masahiko will start short but very successful solo career just in few months after release of "Canto Of Lybra", Miyama's New Herd will work with some leading Japanese free jazz soloists till mid 70s (some their albums will take highest positions in Japanese experimental jazz legacy)and later will turn once again towards heavy orchestrated mainstream jazz and easy listening.

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.

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